Almost certainly not. Unless it was one of the 756 listed specimens bottled up in museums and other institutions around the world.But soon, you might just be able to see one again.
Extinct on the mainland of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, was hunted to oblivion in its one remaining haven. The last of these enigmatic animals died of neglect in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936. Someone forgot to put the creature back into its cage and it perished of exposure.
But the Tiger still haunts us. Ever since then, people have reported seeing ghostly survivors in the wild and there is a long history of Thylacine hunting in Tasmania and beyond. Substantial rewards have been offered for verified sightings or other evidence of the beast’s existence. As with other modern ‘ABC’ (Alien Big Cat) legends, these tales quickly vanish into the air. But the belief remains strong with many and the quest continues.
The Thylacine was certainly a striking animal. Appearing like a brown wolf with black-brown stripes across its back and down its long tail, the ‘Tassie tiger’, as locals say, was more of a kangaroo than a dog or wolf. It was a carnivorous marsupial, its young suckled and protected in a pouch, kangaroo-style. This perceived oddity was reflected in the scientific name given to it, Thylacinus cynocephalus, meaning a pouched dog with a wolf-like head.
Full grown, the animal stood around 60 centimetres high, grew up to 180cm long and weighed around 30 kilograms. Thylacines barked or yelped infrequently and were anything but tiger-like in demeanour, preferring to hide rather than fight. They sometimes died of fright as soon as they were caught.
Aboriginal traditions on the mainland and in Tasmania provide evidence in rock art and lore of the tiger’s once wide distribution around the country. But the advance of European settlement, the possible effects of natural selection and disease, as well as the exaggerated fear of attacks on livestock, eventually eradicated the animal.The loss of these creatures was foretold as early as the 1850s when the famous naturalist John Gould predicted:
‘When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coast, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the Wolf in England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past…’
Scientists are now planning to resurrect the species. This possibility exists because so many stuffed, desiccated and otherwise preserved Thylacine specimens with intact DNA are kept in museums around the world. Researchers have recently turned their attention to this ‘archive of bodies’ created from the colonisation of Australia and the European desire for the exotic.
Ostensibly, this was proper scientific curiosity. But while all the specimen-collecting preserved genetic material that might make resurrection of the Thylacine possible, the museums in which the bodies are stored are still ‘repositories of loss’. They suggest that our ongoing fascination with the Thylacine, reflected in the alleged sightings and the quest for resurrection, are projections of our shared guilt over the extinction of what was a shy and relatively harmless animal.
Australia holds the unenviable world record for mammal extinctions.
National Threatened Species Day is held on the anniversary of the sad and lonely death of the last Tiger each September 7.Tasmanian Tiger skins have become expensive collectors’ items. If scientists do manage to resurrect the creature, at least that will end.
There is an extensive literature on the long history of posthumous thylacine hunting, see Col Bailey, Lure of the Thylacine: True Stories and Legendary Tales of the Tasmanian Tiger, Echo Publishing, South Melbourne 2016, for some examples of sightings, as well as innumerable online sites, including the Wikipedia entry, which provides a reasonable and referenced overview.
Quoted in Robert Paddle, The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 223.