Scientific Name: Thylacinus cynocephalus (extinct – interactive display only)
Perhaps the most mysterious Australian mammal is the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which is considered to have become extinct in 1936.
The Thylacine resembled a large, short-haired dog with a stiff tail which extended from the body in a way similar to that of a kangaroo. Many European settlers drew direct comparisons with the Hyena, because of its unusual stance and general demeanor.
Primarily a nocturnal hunter, it would hunt in the open Tasmanian heathland at night then retreat to the hills and forest during the day to shelter within small caves or hollow tree trunks amongst a nest of twigs, bark or fern fronds.
The Thylacine was exclusively carnivorous and would eat large amounts of food at one time.
It’s suggested that it preferred to single out a target animal and pursue that animal until it was exhausted. They may have even hunted in small family groups, with the main group herding prey in the general direction of an individual waiting in ambush.
Prey is believed to have included kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, birds and other small mammals such as potoroos and possums
The female thylacine had a pouch with four teats, but unlike many other marsupials, the pouch opened to the rear of its body. Males had a scrotal pouch, unique amongst the Australian marsupials.
Early observers noted that the Thylacine was typically shy and secretive, displaying awareness of the presence of humans and generally avoiding contact, though it occasionally showed inquisitive traits.
At the time, much stigma existed in regard to its ‘fierce’ nature, however this is likely due to its perceived threat to agriculture. Whilst the Thylacine was rarely sighted during this time, it slowly began to be credited with numerous attacks on sheep. This accreditation led to the establishment of bounty schemes in an attempt to both control their numbers and protect farmers’ livestock.
Conservation Status: EXTINCT
Although the Thylacine had been close to extinction on mainland Australia by the time of European settlement, and became extinct there some time in the nineteenth century, it survived into the 1930s on the island state of Tasmania.
Its extinction is popularly attributed to these relentless efforts by farmers and bounty hunters. However, it is likely that along with this, multiple factors led to its decline and eventual extinction, including competition with wild dogs, erosion of habitat, concurrent extinction of prey species and disease.