|By Cisco Serret|
The Tasmanian Tiger, otherwise known as the Thylacine (a conjugation of its scientific name) was an inhabitant of Australia and Tasmania up to about 12,000 years ago. Once dingoes appeared on the Australian mainland the thylacine population disappeared, with the only surviving population being left on the island of Tasmania. When farmers moved to Tasmania in the early 1800s, the thylacines were seen as pests that were good for nothing other than killing the livestock of the farmers. A systematic slaughter of the thylacines was set in place, with bounties being rewarded for the scalps. By the early 1900s thylacines were rare creatures, and the last bounty was paid in 1909. The last reported killing of a "tiger" was 1930. The thylacines were given protected status in 1933, but it was too late... the last thylacine found was captured and sent to the Hobart Domain Zoo just two months after they became a protected species. This last thylacine died on September 7, 1936. The people of Australia and Tasmania mourned the loss of their Tasmanian Tiger. Tasmania put the thylacine on its official Coat of Arms. This thylacine was later named "Benjamin".
The thylacine closely resembles a dog, but it is actually a carnivorous marsupial, belonging to the same family as the kangaroo and tasmanian devil. The male thylacine would reach 6 feet in length from head to tail, at about 45 lbs. It sported distinctive stripes that began in mid-back and continued down to the tail. Females were smaller. The bunched and extended rear was reminiscent of hyenas. The tail was long, thin, inflexible and did not wag. Its fur was coarse and sandy-brown. They had pouches in which they carried their young. The opening on their pouches faced towards the rear of the animal, rather than towards the head (as with Kangaroos). Thylacines often hunted in pairs, but they did not have great speed, the best they could do was a fast clumsy "ambling", and they seemed to catch up to prey mainly by exhausting it from constant chase. They fed on various animals up to the size of kangaroos. They had powerful elongated jaws with a huge gape that could crush the skulls of their victims. When hunted by people using dogs, the thylacines would show no fear when cornered and would often kill the first dog to go in. The thylacines normally did not make any sound, but while hunting they were heard to sometimes make a quick barking "yip-yip". No known recording exists. Thylacines were primarily nocturnal animals. Little is known about their social habits. From shot and captured specimens it seems that a typical thylacine litter was 3 or 4 "pups". The thylacines that were captured and put into captivity often died quickly, but some survived up to 13 years. They did not make for great attractions at the zoos, caged thylacines were morose and did not respond to affection from their human caretakers.
THE SIGHTINGS BEGIN
Soon after Benjamin's death, reports of thylacine sightings came in from the mountains of northwestern Tasmania. Australia's Animals and Birds Protection Board sent an investigative team into the area but all they came back with were some interesting reports from the inhabitants of the area. Interest was high and another expedition that was sent in 1938 found the first evidence of living thylacines - footprints that were positively identified as belonging to thylacines. After this expedition, World War II intervened and the next expedition did not take place until 1945. This privately funded expedition found thylacine footprints and collected more sighting reports.
In 1957 zoologist Eric R. Guiler, chairman of the Animals and Birds Protection Board, went to Broadmarsh to investigate the killing of some sheep by an unknown predator. Tracks were found that were identified as thylacine prints. But no thylacine was found. Several more expeditions followed between 1957 and 1966, but these produced only more footprints and more reports of sightings from the local residents.
In 1968 a Tiger Center was established, to which people could report their thylacine sightings. Expeditions continued to beat the brush in the wildlands of Tasmania searching for thylacines. In the 1970s a project was set up by the World Wildlife Fund that set up several automatic-camera units at locations where sightings were concentrated. Bait was used and infrared beams were used to trigger the cameras. The project ended in failure in 1980, no thylacines were captured on film. In his official report, project leader Steven J. Smith of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) stated his view that thylacines are extinct. Zoologist Eric Guiler later set up his own hidden camera operation, but this attempt to capture a living thylacine on film also failed. But the number of reported sightings shot up between 1970 and 1980, a total of 104. This gave investigators new hope in finding a remnant population of thylacines still surviving in the more remote areas of Tasmania. Reports of living thylacines also began to come in from southwestern Western Australia, which was very strange because thylacines were eliminated from mainland Australia thousands of years ago after the introduction of dingoes, which made quick work of the slower moving thylacines.
LIVING THYLACINE IDENTIFIED BY PARK RANGER
On a rainy night in March of 1982 a NPWS park ranger was sleeping in the back seat of his car. Something woke him up and he turned on his spotlight, and turned it onto an animal that was about 20 feet away. He said it was a thylacine, "an adult male in excellent condition, with 12 black stripes on a sandy coat." The animal ran off, and because of the rain, no footprints were left.
The NPWS kept the report from the public until January 1984, in order to keep people from going to the area and disturbing the possible habitat of the last living thylacines. This sighting did not prove the existence of living thylacines to the government's satisfaction though, and no official statement was made to that effect. There was also the question of was to do about the extensive mining and timber operations in the area. If living thylacines were found, would the government have to shut down those commercial enterprises? The question of protection of thylacines versus business interests was a thorny one that the government would have to be very careful about. Real proof of living thylacines was necessary - a live or dead thylacine body would have to be produced.
A THYLACINE SHOT IN 1981?
Following the rash of thylacine sightings in Western Australia, the state's Agricultural Protection Board sent Kevin Cameron, a tracker of aboriginal descent, to investigate. Soon Cameron reported that he himself sighted and identified a living thylacine in Western Australia. But this was not proof enough. Then in 1985 Cameron produced pictures that he claimed were taken of a living thylacine, along with casts of thylacine footprints. The pictures were presented to zoologist Athol M. Douglas at the Western Australian Museum in Perth. They showed an dog like animal burrowing at the base of the tree. The head was hidden from view, but its striped back and stiff tail strongly implied that it was a thylacine. Suspicions began to arise though. Cameron would not say where he took the pictures, and he vacillated on giving permission to have the pictures reproduced for publication, eventually agreeing. Cameron accompanied Douglas to a photographic laboratory while he made enlargements. Douglas found,
"When I saw the negatives, I realized Cameron's account with regard to the photographs was inaccurate. The film had been cut, frames were missing, and the photos were taken from different angles - making it impossible for the series to have been taken in 20 or 30 seconds, as Cameron had stated. Furthermore, in one negative, there was the shadow of another person pointing what could be an over-under 12 gauge shotgun. Cameron had told me he had been alone. It would have been practically impossible for an animal as alert as a thylacine to remain stationary for so long while human activity was going on in its vicinity. In addition, it is significant that the animal's head does not appear in any of the photographs."The story and pictures were released in the New Scientist magazine, and its readers were soon criticizing the authenticity of the photographs. They pointed out that the animal seemed to stay dead still from photograph to photograph. And they realized by the differing lengths of the shadows that the pictures were taken over at least an hour. It would seem that the pictures were a hoax, and the specimen was a stuffed thylacine. But the first picture, the one that showed the shadow of a person holding a gun aimed at the thylacine, was omitted from the New Scientist story. Douglas feels that,
"The full frame of this negative is the one which shows the shadow of the man with a rigid gun-like object pointing in the direction of the thylacine at the base of the tree. This shadow was deliberately excluded in the photos published in New Scientist. If I am correct in this supposition, the thylacine was alive when the first photo was taken, but had been dead [and frozen in rigor mortis] for several hours by the time the second photograph was taken."Douglas hoped that the carcass would surface, but that is doubtful since shooting a thylacine is punishable by a $5000 fine. Cameron was not helpful in shedding any further light on it. So the "Cameron" episode remains clouded in mystery. Either it was a hoax using a stuffed thylacine, or a living thylacine was shot, for reasons unknown, and pictures were taken of it. The fact that the head is not in any of the photographs may be because the animal was shot in the head. If they were using a stuffed thylacine, then why hide the head?
THYLACINE CARCASS FOUND IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
In 1966 an expedition from the Western Australia Museum found a thylacine carcass in a cave near Mundrabilla Station. Carbon dating showed the carcass to be 4,500 years old, but that method of dating may be invalid since the body had been soaking in groundwater which permeated the whole body. Zoologist Athol Douglas reported that along with the thylacine carcass was also found a dingo carcass, and that the dingo carcass was much more deteriorated than the thylacine carcass. Douglas gave his opinion that the dingo carcass was not older than 20 years, and that the thylacine carcass was not older than a year. But since the carbon dating argues against a recent death of this thylacine, official proof of surviving thylacines has still not been claimed.
THE SIGHTINGS SPREAD
Cryptozoological investigator Rex Gilroy has collected various reports of thylacine sightings from "over a wide area of the rugged eastern Australian mountain ranges, from far north Queensland through New South Wales to eastern Victoria." Casts of footprints found in those areas have been verified as thylacine prints. Gilroy even claims to have seen a thylacine himself. Diving at night with a friend along a highway towards the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, something dashed out of the scrub along the highway and ran in front of them. It then stopped and stared back at the headlights for a few seconds before running off into the scrub, towards Grose Valley. It was "almost the size of a full-grown Alsatian dog, with fawn-colored fur and a row of blackish stripes...I have no doubt that it was a thylacine; its appearance matched that of stuffed specimens preserved in Government museums."
Another Park Ranger reported seeing a thylacine in 1990. Ranger Peter Simon was in the Namadgi-Kosciusco National Park along the New South Wales-Victoria border when he saw what he identified as a thylacine in broad daylight at a range of 100 feet. After Peter Simon published an article on his sighting and the thylacine mystery in The Age magazine, he received many cards and letters from Victoria residents who also claimed to have seen Thylacines. Peter Simon said that the reports were so consistent that they, " left me in no doubt that each had seen something unusual [and] ... broadly consistent with the appearance of a thylacine."
In 1982 a Western Australian farming couple claimed to have lost livestock to thylacine predation, and say that they always gets a "prickly feeling" at the back of his neck when the thylacines were nearby. That "prickly feeling" is sensation that is widely reported when people experience encounters with strange out of place creatures or entities.
Australian writer Tony Healy reported that on the day before Ranger Peter Simon was to have his encounter with a thylacine, his hunting dogs refused to leave a truck that they were being transported in after they heard strange harsh panting sounds in the brush nearby.
At a Benedictine monastery named New Hoacia, the secretary to the Addot, Tony James, walked into a room early in the morning and saw a thylacine, "We both froze, and he looked at me, in quite a fearless way, and I sense that he was just simply filled with curiosity at the sighting." The animal fled. Tony feels that perhaps the animal was feeding off the table scraps that were usually left out for the magpies every morning. Another member of the monastery also reported seeing an animal that fit the description of a thylacine while driving from the monastery.
On April 7, 1974, at 3:30 a.m. Joan Gilbert was driving in the outskirts of Bournemouth, England, when a strange animal ran across her headlights. It was a, "strange striped creature, half cat and half dog. It was the most peculiar animal I have ever seen. It had stripes, a long thin tail, and seemed to be all gray, though it might have had some yellow in it. Its ears were set back like a member of the cat family, and it was as big as a medium-sized dog. It was thin, and it definitely was not a fox." She identified it as a thylacine when she found a picture of it in a reference book.