Jul
01
2007

The search for the Thylacine gets dirty.

Australian zoologists are currently working to extract DNA from droppings found in Tasmania in the 50’s and 60’s, with the hope that they will be able to determine whether or not the scats came from a thylacine.
The Thylacine: The Tasmanian Tiger, doing what it does best: being a little cool, and pretty scary. The "yawn" is probably a threat display. Consider yourself threatened.    (photo from the National Institutes for Health)
The Thylacine: The Tasmanian Tiger, doing what it does best: being a little cool, and pretty scary. The "yawn" is probably a threat display. Consider yourself threatened. (photo from the National Institutes for Health)

Believed to have gone extinct in the 1930’s, the thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, has long attracted the interest of cryptozoologists, many of whom believe the creature to still be alive. The last reported wild Tasmanian Tiger was killed in 1918 (or possibly 1930), and the last known specimen died in captivity in1936. If the droppings prove to be genuine (a funny statement), it would indicate that the thylacine lived at least a couple of decades past its supposed extinction, and would add to the hope that there may be a small population still surviving today.

The Tasmanian Tiger was (or, possibly, is) the largest marsupial predator, and, after Cameron Diaz, it is the owner of the world’s largest, scariest mouth. However, C. Diaz is a placental mammal, not marsupial, and the two species are not related. The distinct phenotypic similarities are a remarkable example of the convergent evolution between two top predators (see comparison photo).
Convergent Evolution: Side-by-side comparisons of Cameron Diaz's skull, and that of a thylacine. Despite the remarkable similarities, the two species are not related. Wait... that might actually be a wolf skull, not a Diaz skull. It's still an example of convergent evolution.
Convergent Evolution: Side-by-side comparisons of Cameron Diaz's skull, and that of a thylacine. Despite the remarkable similarities, the two species are not related. Wait... that might actually be a wolf skull, not a Diaz skull. It's still an example of convergent evolution.

Although hunting of the thylacine by European settlers certainly did the species in, some believe that the animal may already have been on the path to extinction – the thylacine used to lived on mainland Australia, but died out there a couple thousand years ago, surviving exclusively on the island of Tasmania. Future studies on the genetic diversity of pre and post-European contact thylacines should give an indication as to whether this is true or not.

Droppings of hope.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

IF THE AUTHOR WOULD HAVE DONE SOME MORE FACT FINDING ABOUT THE THYLACINE HE WOULD HAVE FOUND OUT THAT THE THYLACINE DID NOT DIE OUT BECAUSE OF OVER HUNTING AT ALL , IN FACT THAT PLAYED A VERY SMALL ROLE IN THE ANIMALS EXTINCTION.

posted on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 1:14am
bryan kennedy's picture

Actually the author does not that there is some dispute over the cause of the Thylacine's extinction. This is a point where we should encourage some scientific skepticism since there doesn't yet seem to be a 100% definitive answer.

The Thylacine's extinction did generally coincide with the arrival of European settlers on Tasmania in the 1800s, although it's population may have already been in decline. The animal had gone extinct from the mainland of Australia about 2,000 years earlier as a result of competition with the Dingo (again possibly aided by humans). Back to the recent past in Tasmania the government was paying people money for dead Thylacine's in the late 1800s. However, it's habitat was also in decline and the population may have been suffering from disease as well. So, like many things in the scientific study of animals populations' interactions with humans, it isn't so cut and dry.

posted on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 10:34am
Conor - Tasmania Trip's picture

I agree that the Tasmanian Tiger was in decline before Europeans colonized Tasmania, but there is no doubt that they brought about their eventual extinction.

2184 Tasmanian Tigers were killed and claimed as a bounty to the Tasmanian Government.... if that doesn't put a significant dent in a declining population of animals I don't know what will!

posted on Mon, 04/20/2009 - 9:56am

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