Scientists in Australia are investigating what they say are credible reports of a thylacine–a carnivorous marsupial believed that went extinct over 80 years ago.
Also called the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, the Thylacine has the rough appearance of a medium-sized dog. One scientist leading the search, Sandra Abell, described it as a dog with a pouch. It has a distinctly canine-like front end and head, but thinner, more kangaroo-like back legs, and stripes on the rear of the body.
One of the thylacine’s most distinctive features is its jaw, which opens almost totally to a 180-degree angle.
But no one has seen a thylacine since the last one, Benjamin, believed by some to actually be a female, died at the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
“This isn’t a mythical animal, this is something that is real. We have real fossils and we have images and video footage of this real animal. But the probability that it will be discovered is very low, so I’m not persuaded that they’re out there. For me, I’ll need some hard data to be able to satisfy my curiosity. I really hope they’re out there. I think it would be an amazing thing to discover.”
If you see video footage of a thylacine, that’s Benjamin in the zoo. After Benjamin died, it’s believed that the thylacine went extinct. There were no living ones remaining in the wild–the population had been decimated by man, disease, and domestic dogs–and with Benjamin’s death, thylacines went the way of the Dodo bird.
That’s what everyone thought–until now.
Over the years, a few witnesses have come forward to claim that they spotted one of the animals in the woods in Australia. The reports were never verified, and most believed the people were either making up stories or misidentifying dingoes or wild dogs. A dingo with mange can look quite small and gaunt, like a thylacine.
But now, two credible witnesses came forward claiming that they came face to face with the extinct Australian animal.
“One of those observers was a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service, and the other was a frequent camper and outdoorsman in north Queensland.”
Professor Bill Laurance from Cook University cataloged the accounts that spurred renewed interest in the thylacine and the possibility that a wild population might have survived. He explained how their detailed description was inconsistent with reports of known animals and only seemed to match that of the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
If correct, it would mean that the creatures managed to survive in the Australian wilderness undetected for generations, despite the intense persecution their species underwent at the turn of the century.
“We have cross-checked the descriptions we received of eyeshine colour, body size and shape, animal behaviour, and other attributes, and these are inconsistent with known attributes of other large-bodied species in north Queensland such as dingoes, wild dogs or feral pigs.”
To find the creatures, Sandra Abell and her team are placing dozens of cameras near the location of the sighting in hopes to catch the animals on tape. Very little about them, such as their life cycle and breeding habits, is known. All they know is that the carnivores seem to be nocturnal.
The Thylacine Awareness Group has been cataloging sightings of the animals, and one report describes a woman out with her dog who claims to have run across a pair of the animals with a litter of babies.
If rediscovered, the thylacine’s survival would be one of the most positive and exciting environmental stories in years, proving the resiliency of our animal friends.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]