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The Thylacine Debate - Is the Tasmanian Tiger Really Extinct?

By Chani Blue
Epoch Times Australia Staff
Mar 16, 2006

A Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine), which was declared extinct in 1936, displayed at the Australian Museum in Sydney. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite hundreds of reported sightings of this elusive marsupial wild dog, the Tasmanian Tiger, Thylacinus Cynocephalus remains declared officially extinct, therefore has no protection for it's fragile and natural environment or in and of itself, until it's existence can be verified.

The Tasmanian tiger lives in dry eucalypt forest, wetlands and grasslands in Tasmania. From indigenous fossil paintings, we can determine that it also lived in Papua New Guinea and main land Australia. Some remains discovered, date back to 2,200 years ago. It is generally believed that the Wild Dog or Dingo contributed to its extinction in these two places. The Bass Straight however, protected this population of Tasmanian Tigers in Tasmania giving it an opportunity to thrive for thousands of years, which is until the Europeans arrived.

The 'Tassie Tiger' may appear something like a dog, but unlike other canines, it carries it's young in a pouch, similar to a kangaroo, but it opens from the back. The mother can carry a litter in her pouch of up to three young. The pouch keeps extending and accommodating them as they grow, until it stretches and almost touches the ground. As a lair, they live together in a deep rocky cave, where the mother goes off to hunt in the evenings, through the night and return home at dawn. The Tasmanian tiger has remarkable stamina, along with an acute sense of smell, they proceed to pursue their prey until, the prey simply collapses from exhaustion.

This unique marsupial also has a thick, strong tail like a kangaroo. The dark brown/ black stripes across it's back, ending at its side gives this animal it's name 'Tiger', and it can open it's jaw a wide 120 degrees. The Tasmanian tiger feeds mainly on small mammals, wallabies, kangaroo, rats and mice. It stands 2 ft tall, is 6 ft from nose to tail and weighs in at approximately 30kgs.

The Tasmanian Tigers thrived in their thousands until the 1830's when the Government called on a bounty because they were a threat to the livestock of sheep, killing many in Tasmania. There was another bounty in the 1888 that saw many more slaughtered, leading to dangerously low numbers. It wasn't until 1936 that the Tasmanian tiger was added to the list of protected wildlife. In 1986 it was declared extinct by international standards.

Since when the Europeans first settled in Australia in 1803,the Tasmanian Tiger has been the only mammal to have been wiped out in Tasmania, on the mainland, however, nearly 50% of native animals species have been made extinct, this is the worst record of extinctions out of any country in the world.

There have been no successes of Tasmanian Tigers in captivity reproducing. In fact when in captivity, this animal was extremely nervous and often died from what appeared to be shock. In the wild they are very shy of humans and avoided contact. 'Benjamin' the last surviving Tasmanian tiger lived it's final days in the Hobart Zoo, in Tasmania and died 60 years ago. Many local Tasmanians beg to differ on this fact though, because many sporadic and unconfirmed sightings have been reported around the forests near their old habitat in the Northern regions to this day. A study of sightings by Steven Smith between the years of 1934-1980 analysed the authenticity of as many as 320 reported sightings by local residents. He concluded that as many as half of the sightings were good and could have possibly been the real thing.

The Government along with biologists and photographers have made many expeditions into the wild areas of North Tasmania to collect evidence that the Tiger still may be in existence. But these many investigations in the 1930's through to the 1980's were fruitless. However, the reported sightings continue to this day. However, Government departments may no longer be taking such reports seriously.

Imagining that the species were not extinct, biologists have doubts about its capability of reproducing for an extended period of time because there are not enough numbers in the wild to sustain enough genetic diversity for a perpetuated existence. But, the question is, how long after a last verifiable sighting can we then declare a species extinct? Should the Australian Sanctuary Law be revoked to protect it? Just supposing it still exists out there; it would truly be the rarest Animal in the world.

Eyewitness reports of Tasmanian Tiger sightings can be found at tasmanian-tiger.com .

A free online book called "Magnificent Survivor - Continued Existence of the Tasmanian Tiger" is available from www.users.bigpond.com/tigerbook .