The body of the last known Tasmanian tiger was thought to be lost forever, but researchers have recovered the animal’s skeleton and bones from a Tasmanian museum cabinet.
Striped like a tiger, with a body like a dog, the Tasmanian tiger – or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) – is actually a large marsupial, closely related to quolls and numbats. Marsupial mammals were found throughout Australia, although by the early 1900s, their species was confined to Tasmania.
We now know that the remains of the last captured thylacine were accidentally included in an educational program that traveled from school to school, teaching students about the bodies of long-lost creatures.
Parts of the model’s skin still show smooth fur where children are allowed to rub. No one realized what he was doing at the time, and in the 1980s, the body was stored away and quickly forgotten.
It is a sad ending to a sad life. After being illegally captured by a trapper named Elias Churchill in May 1936, an elderly female thylacine was secretly sold to the now closed Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, where she died on exposure a few months later, on the night of September 7. .
At the time, no one knew that this would be the last Tasmanian tiger to grace the zoo. In fact, records show that people were hunting wild animals after 1936.
The hope of finding another survivor meant that the body of the last thylacine at Beaumaris Zoo was not celebrated or recorded in any special way.
“For many years, museum managers and many researchers searched for his remains but without success, because none of the thylacine specimens recorded in 1936 were recorded in the zoological collection, so it was assumed that his body had been disposed of,” says Robert Paddle, a comparative psychologist. from the Australian Catholic University.
The treasure hunt began recently when Paddle and Kathryn Medlock, curator emeritus of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), came across an unpublished report.
It was written in a 1936/1937 log by the museum’s taxidermist, and the passage stated that a thylacine that had died in 1936, the last known living individual of its species, had been gifted to TMAG.
But it was not in the zoology section of the museum, where researchers had previously investigated it. It was in the educational section of the museum.
“The skin was carefully examined as a flat skin by the museum’s taxi driver, William Cunningham, which meant it could be easily transported and used as a model for school classes studying Tasmanian animals,” says Medlock.
Peddle and Medlock are both hopeful that their rediscovery will put an end to the myths surrounding the last Tasmanian tiger.
These lies have been widely distributed and undisputed, they can be found on the official websites of the National Museum of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive.
Both websites claim that the last Tasmanian tiger in captivity was a male named Benjamin, but Paddle told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it was a myth.
Although it is true that there was a male thylacine kept at Beaumaris Zoo in 1935, his name was not Benjamin and he was not the last. That rumor was completely made up in the 1960s by someone who didn’t even work at the zoo.
“It’s a sad myth,” Paddle told ABC News’ Adam Langenberg.
“It’s time to get it off the books. It’s too scary, Kathryn [Medlock] and I didn’t even mention it in [research] paper.”
The man in Beaumaris may not have been the last thylacine caught, but he was the last to be captured on camera. A 21-second video of a male Tassie tiger, taken in 1935 for documentary purposes, has recently been edited and released online.
In the shot, the male thylacine can be seen walking around the enclosure of his zoo as excited visitors shake his cage. If you listen to the words, one of the narrators can hear, “He is the only one who is in captivity in the world.”
But those words, if they were true at the time, were not true for a long time.
Churchill’s captive female thylacine joined the zoo shortly before ‘Benjamin’ made his film debut, and according to museum records, outnumbered the male.
Although it is possible that there were thylacines left in the wild at this time, this was the last individual to be recorded in the zoo. Hunting is thought to have led to their extinction in Tasmania, as well as possible disease and habitat disturbance when Europeans invaded the animals’ protected areas.
The last remains of the thylacine are now on display at TMAG for interested visitors to see.
Paddle and Medlock’s paper on their recovery will be available soon at Australian scientist website.