Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Extinct
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine (Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (TAS DIPWE), 2009m) [Internet].
TAS:Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus (Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (Tasmanian PWS), 2006) [Internet].
TAS:Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014uq) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Extinct (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Extinct (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2011.2)
Scientific name Thylacinus cynocephalus [342]
Family Thylacinidae:Polyprotodonta:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Harris, 1808)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Thylacinus cynocephalus

Common name: Thylacine

Other names: Tasmanian Tiger

The Thylacine was a marsupial that bore superficial resemblance to a dog. The most distinguishing feature of this animal were the 13–19 dark brown stripes over the back, beginning at the rear of the body and extending onto the tail. The tail was thick at the base and very stiff, giving the impression that it was a continuation of the body. The hair was short and dense, usually fawn to sandy brown, but varying in colour from deep brown to grey. The female had a large pouch. The species had prominent canine teeth as well as shearing molar teeth. There was some degree of sexual dimorphism, with males having a slightly longer body length than females. The average nose-to-tail length for adult males was 162.6 cm, compared to 153.7 cm for females (Guiler 1985; Paddle 2000; Tasmanian DPIW 2007).

The Thylacine was largely silent, its vocalisations being limited to an occasional 'terrier like' bark when hunting and a series of husky barks when excited in captivity. Adults could weigh anything from 15–35 kg (although recorded weights of live animals were few) (Flannery 1990a). The species was shy and secretive and always avoided contact with humans. Despite the common name, 'tiger', it had a quiet, nervous temperament. Captured animals generally gave up without a struggle and many died suddenly, apparently from shock (Guiler 1985; Tasmanian DPIW 2007).

Approximately 4000 years ago the Thylacine was widespread throughout New Guinea and most of mainland Australia, as well as Tasmania. Its extinction coincided closely with the arrival of the dingo in Australia and the wild dog in New Guinea. Dingoes never reached Tasmania, and most scientists see this as the main reason for the Thylacine's survival there. The most recent, well-dated occurrence of a Thylacine on the mainland is a carbon-dated fossil from Murray Cave in Western Australia, which is around 3100 years old. Further evidence for the previous presence of Thylacines on the mainland includes Aboriginal rock-paintings of a striped animal (almost certainly a Thylacine) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and the Northern Territory (Flannery 1990a; Guiler 1985).

The Thylacine was widely distributed in Tasmania before European arrival. The first definite reference was that of Paterson in 1805, near Yorketown, on the Tamar River in northern Tasmania (Flannery 1990a). At the time of the first settlement, the heaviest distributions of this species were in the north-east, north-west and north-midland regions of Tasmania (Australian Museum 1999b).

There have been numerous expeditions and searches for the Thylacine, beginning in 1937 and culminating in 1993. These included searches by leading Australian naturalists such as David Fleay, who searched for months in 1945–46, and notable Thylacine experts such as Eric Guiler (Flannery 1990a; Guiler 1980). None of these expeditions has produced evidence that Thylacines still exist. There have been hundreds of sightings since 1936, many of which may have been clear cases of misidentification. However, in a detailed study of sightings that occurred between 1934 and 1980, Smith (1980) concluded that of a total of 320 sightings, just under half could be considered good sightings. Nonetheless, all sightings have remained inconclusive (Tasmanian DPIW 2007). The results of a few of these searches are given below (Tasmanian DPIW 2007):

  • 1937 - Sergeant Summers leads a search in the north-west of the State, recording many recent sightings by other persons in a large area between the Arthur and Pieman Rivers, although the party itself did not see any Thylacines. He recommends a sanctuary in that area.
  • 1945 - Well-known naturalist David Fleay searches the Jane River to Lake St Clair area, finding possible Thylacine footprints.
  • 1959 - Eric Guiler leads a search in the far north-west, an area which produced many bounties, and finds what appeared to be Thylacine footprints.
  • 1963 - Eric Guiler leads a search in the Sandy Cape area but finds no evidence.
  • 1968 - Jeremy Griffiths, James Malley and Bob Brown embark on a major search. Although they collect reports of sightings, they find no evidence of the Thylacine.
  • 1980 - Parks and Wildlife Officers, Steven Smith and Adrian Pyrke, search a wide area of the State using three automatic cameras. No evidence of Thylacines is found.
  • 1982–83 - Parks and Wildlife Officer, Nick Mooney, undertakes an extensive but unsuccessful search to confirm the 1982 sighting reported by Hans Naarding near the Arthur River in the State's north-west.
  • 1984 - A search in Tasmania's highlands by Tasmanian Wildlife Park owner, Peter Wright, fails to turn up conclusive evidence.
  • 1988–93 - Separate photographic searches by wildlife photographer, Dave Watts and Ned Terry, fail to record a Thylacine.

The Thylacine is presumed extinct. It was probably never an abundant species, despite its wide distribution, partly due to its position at the top of the food chain (Flannery 1990a).

The Thylacine appeared to occupy most types of habitat except dense rainforest. Open eucalypt forest was thought to be prime habitat (Flannery 1990a).

Little is known of the lifespan of the Thylacine. However, a captive individual lived in the London Zoo for nearly eight and a half years and was probably at least a year old when obtained, making it more than nine years old when it died. A second specimen lived for 12 years at Beaumaris Zoo, Tasmania (Flannery 1990a). Based on this information their life expectancy in the wild has been estimated at five to seven years (Tasmanian DPIW 2007). However, since the related Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) lives longer in the wild than in captivity, it has been postulated that the lifespan of the Thylacine in the wild may have been 12–14 years (Guiler 1985).

The Thylacine had an extended breeding season from winter to spring, with indications that some breeding toook place through out the year (Guiler 1985). The maximum number of young in a season was four although the average litter was probably three. The Thylacine, like all marsupials, was tiny and hairless when born. Newborns crawled into the mother's pouch and attached themselves to one of the four teats (Tasmanian DPIW 2007). Females carried the young in the backwards-facing pouch for up to three months (Dixon 1989). The pouch enlarged and hung down low as the young grew (Flannery 1990a). Large pouch-young had fur with stripes. When old enough to leave the pouch, the young stayed in a lair such as a deep rocky cave, well-hidden nest or hollow log, whilst the mother hunted (Tasmanian DPIW 2007).

Much of the behaviour of this species is unknown. The Thylacine has been described as a social species, living and hunting in small family groups, but some texts state that the young left the mother once they were able to hunt independantly (Flannery 1990a; Paddle 2000).

The Thylacine was exclusively carnivorous. Its stomach was muscular with an ability to distend to allow the animal to eat large amounts of food at one time, probably an adaptation to compensate for long periods when hunting was unsuccessful and food scarce (Dixon 1998). Its prey included Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus), the Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), the Tasmanian Pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus tasmaniensis), wombats, and a variety of bandicoots, bats and birds. A favourite prey animal may have been the once common Tasmanian Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis), as both dingoes and foxes have been noted to hunt the Emu on the mainland (Pople et al. 2000). They were said to eat carrion when live prey was not available, although some authorities dispute this. It was also said to have readily included domestic stock in its diet (Flannery 1990a).

The Thylacine was not a fast runner and probably caught its prey by exhausting it during a long pursuit. During long distance pursuits Thylacines probably relied more on scent than any other sense (Flannery 1990a; Guilder 1985). They emerged to hunt during the evening, night and early morning (Tasmanian DPIW 2007) and tended to retreat to the hills and forest for shelter during the day (Heberle 2004).

Although the Thylacine was mainly nocturnal, it was sighted moving during the day and captive animals were recorded basking in the sun (Flannery 1990a).

Thylacines had a typical home range of between 40 and 80 km² (Guiler 2006). It appears to have kept to its home range without being territorial (Guiler 1985; Paddle 2000).

The reasons for the Thylacine's extinction are still disputed. Some researchers have suggested that disease was instrumental in reducing its numbers although there is little evidence for this. The species decline was probably accelerated when they came into competition with domestic dogs and were hunted by humans (Flannery 1990a; Guiler 1985).

The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and Thylacines (Guiler 1985; Tasmanian DPIW 2007). It seems likely that hunting by Europeans, firstly by the Van Dieman Land Company and private landowners, and then as a result of bounties paid by the Tasmanian government, was a significant factor in the extinction of the Thylacine. The Tasmanian government bounty was one pound for each adult scalp and ten shillings for sub-adults. Bounties were collected on 2184 animals. The government bounty numbers quoted do not include those Thylacines killed for private landholders, who also offered rewards (Flannery 1990a; Guiler 1985).

The list below records the decline of the species (Tasmanian DPIW 2007):

  • 1830 - Van Diemens Land Company introduced a Thylacine bounty
  • 1888 - Tasmanian Parliament placed a price of £1 on Thylacine's head
  • 1909 - Government bounty scheme terminated: 2184 bounties paid
  • 1910 - Thylacines rare - sought by zoos around the world
  • 1926 - London Zoo bought its last Thylacine for £150
  • 1933 - Last Thylacine captured, Florentine Valley, sold to Hobart Zoo
  • 1936 - World's last captive Thylacine died in Hobart Zoo (7 September 1936)
  • 1936 - Thylacine added to the list of protected wildlife
  • 1986 - Thylacine declared extinct by international standards

Although its extinction is generally attributed to these relentless efforts by farmers and bounty hunters (Tasmanian PWS 2006), it is likely that multiple factors led to its decline and eventual extinction. These include competition with wild dogs introduced by settlers (Boyce 2006), loss of habitat, the concurrent extinction of prey species, and a distemper-like disease may also have affected the species (Guiler 2006; Paddle 2000; Tasmanian DPIW 2007).

There seems to have been little public pressure to preserve the Thylacine, nor was much concern expressed by scientists at the decline of this species. A notable exception was T.T. Flynn, professor of biology at the University of Tasmania. In 1914, he was sufficiently concerned about the scarcity of the Thylacine to suggest that some should be captured and placed on an island. However, it was not until 1929, with the species on the very edge of extinction, that the Animals and Birds Protection Board passed a motion protecting Thylacines only for the month of December, which was thought to be their prime breeding season (Flannery 1990a). Official protection of the species by the Tasmanian government was introduced on 10 July 1936, 59 days before the last known specimen died in captivity (Paddle 2000).

There was only one successful attempt to breed Thylacines in captivity, at Melbourne Zoo in 1899 (Paddle 2000). This was despite the large numbers that went through some zoos, particularly those in Hobart and London. The famous naturalist John Gould foresaw the Thylacine's demise when he published his Mammals of Australia between 1848 and 1863: 'When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coasts, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the wolf of England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past' (Gould 1863). The last known wild Thylacine to be killed was shot by a farmer in the north-east of the state in 1930 (The Thylacine Museum 2006). The last known Thylacine died in Hobart Zoo on 7th September, 1936 (Tasmanian DPIW 2007).

The Australian Museum in Sydney began a cloning project in 1999 (Leigh 2002). The goal was to use genetic material from specimens taken and preserved in the early 20th century to clone new individuals and restore the species. Several noted microbiologists dismissed the project as a public relations stunt (Miller 2002).

The researchers had some initial success as they were able to extract good-quality DNA from the specimens (Salleh 2000). However, on 15 February 2005, the museum announced that it was stopping the project after tests showed the DNA retrieved from the specimens had been too badly degraded to be usable (ABC News Online 2005; Smith 2005). In May 2005, Professor Michael Archer, the University of NSW Dean of Science, former director of the Australian Museum and evolutionary biologist, announced that the project was being restarted by a group of interested universities and a research institute (Dasey 2005; Skatssoon 2005). A Thylacine gene has since been extracted from alcohol-preserved Thylacine pouch young and a dried adult skin. This gene was inserted into a mouse genome, where it was able to function normally as the mouse fetus developed (Pask et al. 2008).

The International Thylacine Specimen Database (ITSD) was completed in April 2005 and is the culmination of a four-year research project to catalogue and digitally photograph, if possible, all known surviving Thylacine specimen material held within museum, university and private collections. The master records are held by the Zoological Society of London (World Conservation Monitoring Centre 1996).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Uncategorised:Uncategorised:threats not specified Thylacinus cynocephalus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006ze) [Internet].

ABC News Online (2005). Museum ditches thylacine cloning project. [Online]. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200502/s1303501.htm.

Australian Museum (1999b). Australia's Thylacine: Where did the Thylacine live?. [Online]. Available from: http://www.amonline.net.au/thylacine/04.htm.

Boyce, J. (2006). Canine Revolution: The Social and Environmental Impact of the Introduction of the Dog to Tasmania. Environmental History. 11 (1):102-129.

Dasey, D. (2005). Researchers revive plan to clone the Tassie tiger. Sydney Morning Herald. [Online]. Available from: http://www.smh.com.au/news/Science/Clone-again/2005/05/14/1116024405941.html.

Dixon, J. (1989). Fauna of Australia. Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) CSIRO Publishing.

Flannery, T. (1990a). Australia's Vanishing Mammals. Surrey Hills, Australia: Readers Digest Press.

Gould, J. (1863). The Mammals of Australia. London, England: published privately.

Guiler, E. (1980). The Thylacine - an unsolved case. Australian Natural History. 20:69-70.

Guiler, E. (1985). Thylacine: the tragedy of the Tasmanian Tiger. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.

Guiler, E. (2006). Profile - Thylacine. [Online]. Zoology Department, University of Tasmania. Available from: http://www.zoo.utas.edu.au/tfprofiles/tasanimals/Thylacine2.htm.

Heberle, G. (2004). Reports of alleged thylacine sightings in Western Australia. Conservation Science Western Australia. 5 (1):1-5.

Leigh, J. (2002). Back from the dead. [Online]. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2002/may/30/genetics.australia.

Miller, W (2002). Tasmanian tiger clone a fantasy: scientist. [Online]. The Age. Available from: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/08/21/1029114134051.html. [Accessed: 25-Sep-2008].

Paddle, R. (2000). The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Cambridge University Press.

Pask, A.J., Behringer, R.R. and Renfree, M.B. (2008). Resurrection of DNA Function In Vivo from an Extinct Genome. PLoS ONE. 3 (5):e2240. [Online]. Published online. Available from: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2375112.

Pople, A.R., G.C. Grigg, S.C. Cairns, L.A. Beard & P. Alexander (2000). Trends in the numbers of red kangaroos and emus on either side of the South Australian dingo fence: evidence for predator regulation?. Wildlife Research. 27 (3):269-276.

Salleh, A. (2000). Bringing the Tasmanian Tiger back to life. [Online]. ABC Science Online. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s123723.htm.

Skatssoon, J. (2005). Thylacine cloning project dumped. [Online]. ABC Science Online. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1302459.htm.

Smith, D. (2005). Tassie tiger cloning 'pie-in-the-sky science'. [Online]. Sydney Morning Herald. Available from: http://www.smh.com.au/news/science/tassie-tiger-cloning-pieinthesky-science/2005/02/16/1108500157295.html. [Accessed: 31-May-2008].

Smith, S.J. (1980). The Tasmanian Tiger 1980: A report on an investigation of the current status of Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania.

Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water (DPIW) (2007). Tasmaninan Tiger. [Online]. Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water. Available from: http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-53777B.

Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (Tasmanian PWS) (2006). Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus. [Online]. Available from: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?id=4765. [Accessed: 31-May-2008].

The Thylacine Museum (2006). Additional Thylacine topics: persecution. [Online]. Available from: http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/additional/persecution/persecution.htm. [Accessed: 31-May-2008].

World Conservation Monitoring Centre (1996). Thylacinus cynocephalus. IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [Online]. Available from: http://www.iucnredlist.org. [Accessed: 24-Sep-2008].

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Thylacinus cynocephalus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Mon, 21 Apr 2014 14:45:07 +1000.