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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?

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 3 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)

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      What an interesting looking animal.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh Me! The Tamanian Tiger looks ferocious.

    • profile image

      nifwlseirff 5 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.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 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!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      River_Rose 6 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 ...

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 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 7 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 7 years ago from Montana

      Fascinating lens, Susanna!

    • PizmoBeach LM profile image

      PizmoBeach LM 7 years ago

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

    • SidneyMorgan LM profile image

      SidneyMorgan LM 7 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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      they live i can tell! I JUST KNOW IT

    • admiralglass lm profile image

      admiralglass lm 8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      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 9 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 9 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 9 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.