A Thylacine! Or Not

Adam M Wakeling
9 min readFeb 27, 2021

Sadly, The Tasmanian Tiger probably is extinct after all

Thylacines at National Zoo, Washington D.C., c. 1903 (Wikimedia Commons).

On Monday, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #Thylacine. “We found a thylacine” declared Neil Waters, president of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia (TAGOA), in a video posted to Youtube. When checking the SD card of an automatic camera in remote north-eastern Tasmania, Waters claimed to have found photos of three thylacines — two adults and a joey. This would be proof that the animal, officially considered to be extinct since 1936, was both alive and breeding. There was, he admitted, some ambiguity about the two adults, but the joey undeniably a thylacine. “The baby has stripes, a stiff tail, the hock, the coarse hair, it’s the right colour, it’s a quadruped, it’s stocky and it’s got the right-shaped ears” he said.

Waters sent the photos to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery to be verified by Nick Mooney, the honorary curator of vertebrate zoology and official assessor of any evidence of the thylacine’s continued existence. And to the crushing disappointment of thylacine enthusiasts worldwide, Mooney concluded that the creatures in the photos were highly unlikely to be thylacines. Rather, they were probably Tasmanian pademelons, short and tubby forest-dwelling relatives of the kangaroo which would have made up a large part of a thylacine’s diet. This is not the first time Mooney has poured cold water on the hopes of those who believe there is some chance the Tasmanian tiger still lives — he concluded that a 2017 video purporting to show a thylacine actually showed a spotted quoll — and it probably won’t be the last. It’s hard to let go of the thylacine.

The Tasmanian Tiger’s Troubled History

The thylacine was the largest marsupial carnivore to survive into historical times. At its height it was found throughout Australia and New Guinea — the apex predator of environments from steaming tropical forests to the cold Tasmanian highlands. An adult thylacine was the size of a wolf or large dog. Its canine appearance gave it both its scientific name cynocephalus (dog-headed) and one of its nicknames, the Tasmanian wolf. Its other and more common Nickname, the Tasmanian tiger, comes from its stripes.

Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.