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On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger

Updated on December 17, 2014

The Last Thylacine

The Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine, is said to be extinct, but each year there are at least a dozen unconfirmed sightings in remote areas.

I've camped out at Pyengana, where many sightings have been reported. I've searched diligently for traces of thylacine, kept quiet and still in a hide by waterfalls for days on end but have not, as yet, seen any sign of this elusive creature.

One day I will see a Tasmanian Tiger. I feel this in my bones. But that could just be the aches from camping out in the damp.

Where is Tasmania?

The most Southerly State in Australia

See the little island on the map? That's Tasmania. It's in the south towards Antarctica, and 240 kilometres (150 miles) from where I am, in Melbourne. It's a tiny little place, about the size of Ireland, Switzerland or West Virginia.

Tasmania is a wonderful, wild region. The natural environment is almost completely unspoiled, with over 40% of the island in National Parks and World Heritage Sites.

There are still parts of Tasmania where no European has ever been, so there's plenty of wilderness for a thylacine or two.

It's cold down here compared to the rest of Australia. Tasmania also includes the subantarctic Macquarie Island, which is part of the Huon Valley local government area.


Slaughtered by Settlers - A Bounty for a Thylacine head

What's a thylacine?

A carnivorous marsupial mammal

Australia has a number of marsupial creatures. Koalas and kangaroos are the most familiar, but we have more of these strange marsupial mammals.

Marsupial mammals don't lay eggs, they give birth to live young. The newborn, essentially helpless embryos, then make an arduous climb into the mother's pouch. Once safely in that pouch they continue to develop, often for weeks or months.

The Thylacine was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It's not a tiger at all, but a marsupial dog. Thylacines are relatives of kangaroos, they looked like a dog, and had stripes like a tiger

Thylacines are thought to have become extinct in the middle of the 20th century. When I say become extinct the poor creature was shot on sight by ignorant settlers.

In some parts of the world the thylacine is called the Tasmanian Wolf, but it's commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger because of its striped back . The Tasmanians affectionately speak of the Tassie Tiger.

The Phantoms of Tasmania

Once Thylacines were widespread over mainland Australia, Tasmania, as well as in New Guinea.

Their range first declined because of competition from the Dingo but, when the Europeans arrived, thylacines were hunted, trapped and poisoned ruthlessly as potential killers of livestock.

The video shows photos of the last thylacine - if, indeed, it were the last one. I still hope to find one in Pyengana. Wish me luck!

The Last Recorded Thylacine

But have they really all gone?

The last thylacine died in captivity in 1936 at the Hobart Zoo.

But since then more than 4000 sightings have been reported and many a reward (including a $1.25 million bounty for conclusive proof) has been offered.

Are the sightings valid? Can thylacines still be surviving in the deep Tasmanian forests? You have to keep in mind that, in the wild forests of the south among the mighty Huon Pines, there are still places where no European has yet set foot.

There's only one way to settle it - a live, uninjured animal must be produced!

Perhaps the best place to start is in North East Tasmania where Parks and Wildlife Service officers have reported sightings.


On the trail of the Thylacine

An enjoyable trip in itself

Take the Tasman Highway which connects Launceston with the eastern coast. A pleasant hour of driving brings you to Scottsdale, a friendly town in the heart of pastoral and forestry country.

Garden lovers come here to the Bridestowe Lavender Farm, especially during the summer in December and January.

Continue along the highway for another half an hour to reach Derby, an entire town which has been classified by the National Trust. Don't miss the Derby Tin Mine Centre. This is a charming little town and well known for art galleries and craft outlets nestling in the 19th century buildings.


A place of quiet, serene beauty

Further down the Tasman Highway towards the coast is the tiny rural community of Pyengana. Here you will find the turn-off to the St Columbla Falls, dumping up to 200 000 litres of water over a ninety metre drop every minute.

This is a place of quiet, serene beauty, the silence broken only by the sound of the water and the cries of the Black-faced cuckoo-shrike.

This may be a good spot to wait and watch for a thylacine, in any case you're likely to be joined by wombats, wallabies and perhaps a Tasmanian devil. Good luck!

What to look for

You'll be sure to recognise a thylacine

The Tasmanian Tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus, looked like a large, long dog, with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and a big head.

Fully grown it measured about 180 cm (6 ft) from nose to tail tip, stood about 58 cm (2 ft) high at the shoulder and weighed up to 30 kg.

The short, soft fur was brown with dark brown-black stripes that extended from the base of the tail to almost the shoulders.

And those jaws! A thylacine could routinely open up his jaws to an angle of 120 degrees - the same size as his head!

These days we don't have much chance to be frightened by those huge gaping jaws and powerful teeth for if any of these fascinating native creatures are left they are displaying remarkable good sense and hiding from us.

Hunted to extinction?

Hunted to extinction?
Hunted to extinction?

A Thylacine Clone?

Can it be done?

From a vault in Sydney's Australian Museum, a pickled Tasmanian tiger pup has brought the prospect of reviving an extinct species to the verge of reality, bringing mixed reactions of wonder and terror.

By chance this Thylacine was stored in a jar of alcohol rather than formalin, which would have destroyed the DNA.

Almost 80 years after Thylacine extinction, the museum has launched a project to clone the Tasmanian tiger.

For proponents, it's a chance to undo a terrible mistake that we have made, but for diehard critics, it's "playing God."

What do you think?

Cloning extinct animals - what do YOU think?

Should we clone extinct animals?

Yes. We have caused a species to become extinct because of our greed and ignorance. If we possess the technology to bring the species back, then we should do so

Yes. We have caused a species to become extinct because of our greed and ignorance. If we possess the technology to bring the species back, then we should do so

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    • Virginia Allain 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Farmers might not be keen on having them but there are wild areas of Tasmania where they could live. The US has successfully brought back the wolf and the buffalo from being close to extinction. This just is more difficult due to the cloning needed.

    • mariacarbonara 3 years ago

      We should bring them back if we can. The amazing thing is Australia is a massive country with a very small population so there is plenty of room for all to coexist. Hard to believe we still have this mentality of kill, kill, kill. Even when these animals are no longer any competition for us

    • theallin1writer 4 years ago

      Yes, we should take responsibility for our part in their murder.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      yes, we should bring back what we have made extinct. We killed them without thinking and that just makes me angry that we think we are better than everything else in this world. We are no better than a criminal if we just forget about them.

    • BryanLSC 5 years ago

      Bring them back but don't release them into the wild. Just put them in captivity and carry out research to see if they fit the outside world, then only release them. Just a thought!

    No way! Who knows what can happen if we introduce extinct animals into a modern environment? We should contentrate instead on caring for the species close to ex

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      • anonymous 5 years ago

        No way!!! We can't just let them die and clone them!, I mean how would you feel if you died and then someone make a clone of you.

        I think that is horrible and we should try save them.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        No, the Tasmanian Devil is endangered as it is. proving to be difficult for just one carnivorous marsupial to live let alone two. if the Tasmanian Tiger can be successfully reproduced through cloning then it will have a significant influence on the Tasmanian Devil for the worse and it would most likely die out itself struggling to survive in the small area of Tasmania.

      • River_Rose 5 years ago

        Makes me think of the movie about bringing back T-Rex......kinda scary to me.

      • Shadrosky 6 years ago

        I must profess to the belief that if they truly are extinct, even by human hands, it was sadly meant to be

      • SHorsburgh 6 years ago

        No, they are extinct for a reason.

      • gia combs-ramirez 6 years ago from Montana

        Tough choice! I'm thinking that humans haven't been very smart with Australia and perhaps should leave it up to Nature to create something new.

      A better known Australian dog

      The Dingo

      Dingo, ancestor of all dog breeds - Wildlife Australia
      The mother of all dingoes was most probably a single pregnant female. An intelligent animal, she trotted across the landbridge from Indonesia to Australia about 5,000 years ago and made a home for herself close to the people who inhabited the great Southern...

      Could there be some thylacines left?

      Is the Thylacine still living in the deep forests?

      See results

      © 2008 Susanna Duffy

      Talk to the Tasmanian Tiger

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        • DreyaB profile image

          DreyaB 2 years ago from France

          I'm undecided on the cloning issue - not keen in general but perhaps there are benefits in some cases. I've followed both 'Last Chance to See' programmes over the years, about animals on the verge of extinction, so I'd like to think that perhaps some do survive, just that they haven't really been spotted by anyone - it seems possible to me. Really interesting read. :0)

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          grannysage 3 years ago

          What an interesting looking animal.

        • OhMe profile image

          Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

          Oh Me! The Tamanian Tiger looks ferocious.

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          nifwlseirff 4 years ago

          I hope that scientists are able to successfully clone the Tassie tiger - it would be a remarkable step forward in medicine, and bring back a unique animal. I also desperately hope that the other endangered animals in Tasmania are protected (the devil and the wedge tailed eagles). I can't believe that the government is approving so many mines in the Tarkine forest! It's going to have a horrific impact on the local wildlife.

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          AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

          I had not heard of this animal before this article. Very interesting. Let's hope there are still some hiding from man in the wild.

        • BryanLSC profile image

          BryanLSC 5 years ago

          All extinct animals are poor, especially those caused by man!

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          It would be nice if some of them were left. Would be tragic if they were truly extinct.

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          River_Rose 5 years ago

          Very unusual looking animal ! Quite possible it is still alive and well....I believe there is probably a Loch-Ness and Big Foot also...

        • PizmoBeach LM profile image

          PizmoBeach LM 6 years ago

          I have my fingers crossed that there is a small and yet to be discovered "pack" of Tasmanian Tigers somewhere ...

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          Shadrosky 6 years ago

          Very enjoyable and informative lens! I didnt know much about this particular animal.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Too bad they were wiped.out.I do hope they have survived in the remote area you mentioned.They are among my favorite animals.We in America have wiped out many of our wildlife also.I am reading the Tasmanian Tiger by David Owen,fascinating read!I hopoe they are rediscovered and proteced.

        • Nowran profile image

          Nowran 6 years ago

          Well now - a lot of people seem to think there are still tigers out there by the results of the poll. I'm not very hopeful of that, we've done too many nasty things in the way of wiping out our wildlife in Australia.

        • giacombs-ramirez profile image

          gia combs-ramirez 6 years ago from Montana

          Fascinating lens, Susanna!

        • PizmoBeach LM profile image

          PizmoBeach LM 6 years ago

          Another great lens. I really enjoy reading all your lenses.

        • SidneyMorgan LM profile image

          SidneyMorgan LM 6 years ago

          Wow. The pictures, the information, more people should know about this wonderful and unique animal. It is so extremely sad that they are gone. Above all the information and pictures you presented here informed me so much about an animal that I knew next to nothing about. Thank you.

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          anonymous 7 years ago

          you know its amazing that they just let the poor animals die out :(

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          anonymous 7 years ago

          they live i can tell! I JUST KNOW IT

        • admiralglass lm profile image

          admiralglass lm 7 years ago

          It´s shame how we humans treat animals. I hope that thre´s still few roaming. 5* lens

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          The Goblins Den 8 years ago

          Yeah, it's a shame that thylacines were hunted to extinction. It's one of my favorite animals too. I have a feeling that there's still some alive out there though...

        • mysticmama lm profile image

          Bambi Watson 8 years ago

          Amazing! I've always wanted to visit Australia and tazmania...the wildlife there is so amazingly distinct and of my brother's brothers, just moved to Sydney for work. Only in America's dysfunctional families can ones brother have brothers that are not related to the lens...thanks for making it, 5*

        • LisaDH profile image

          LisaDH 8 years ago

          I'm hopeful there are still some out there and that they'll stay far enough away from man to avoid being thrown in a zoo and becoming extinct again.

        • teamlane profile image

          teamlane 8 years ago

          Excellent! Never heard of a Thylacine tiger before. Great information and a Squid Angel Blessing at ya! ~ Colleen :)

        • Stazjia profile image

          Carol Fisher 8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

          I hope it's still surviving somewhere deep in the forest. Wouldn't that be great? I guess it depends on whether a viable population was left untouched in the wild regions of the forest.