Thylacinus cynocephalus - Tasmanian Tiger

(Thylacinus) pouched dog (cynocephalus) dog headed

The thylacine was Australia's largest marsupial carnivore at the time of European settlement and it was by that time found only on the island of Tasmania. It was even then a rare species, with perhaps only around 3000 animals existing at that time.

This dog or wolf-like animal was a sandy fawn to brownish colour, with 15 to 20 dark stripes over its back and rump, earning it the name 'Tasmanian Tiger'.

However, fossil remains of this marsupial have been found throughout Australia and even in New Guinea. Thylacines vanished from the mainland of Australia around 3300 years ago, with the introduction of the dingo approximately 4000 years ago thought to be a major contributor to their disappearance on the mainland.

The thylacine had many special features including jaws which could open to an impressive 120° (the Great White shark can only open its jaws to 90°). Its tail was not like that of a dog, but more an extension of the body like that of a kangaroo. The thylacine could use the end of its tail for additional support as it sat back on its elongated back feet, the entire long heel in contact with the ground. This made it appear much like a kangaroo, which it was in fact more closely related to than any of the canine family.

The pouch of the thylacine was rear facing, to protect the young as the animal ran through their open forest or coastal scrubland territory. The mother carried up to 4 young at a time and once they were big enough she probably left them in the lair while going off to hunt kangaroos and wallabies.

thylacinus cynocephalus

It is a tragedy that the early European settlers in Tasmania blamed thylacines for the deaths of many of their sheep stock, which led to a bounty scheme being introduced. Although many of these deaths were probably due to wild dogs, vagrants or aboriginals, the government paid 1 pound Stirling for each adult and 10 shillings for each thylacine pup brought in dead. The population was decimated within a century. The last thylacine to be shot was killed in 1930, finally in August 1936 the government declared the species to be protected. It was too late. In September that year, just 29 days after becoming 'protected' the last known thylacine died in a zoo in Hobart.

The thylacine survived the mass extinction of the megafauna 46,000 years ago, but tragically still lost its fight for survival due to the ignorance of humankind. It is now considered extinct.

Thylacine fossils have been found in Mammoth, Lake and Jewel Caves.