thylacine – the Tasmanian tiger

The Animal WorldFrom The Project Gutenberg, Volume 5 of a children’s Treasury published in 1909 -was titled The Animal World.  The reference to the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine was written around the time of the cessation of bounties for the animals when someone in authority must have cottoned on that killing the animals was having a devastating effect on their survival as a species. Parks Tasmania has a more current and comprehensive article for the thylacine which includes this chronology of the animal’s tragic decline into extinction.

Why are they extinct?

The arrival of European settlers marked the start of a tragic period of conflict that led to the thylacine’s extinction. The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and thylacines.

  • 1830 Van Diemens Land Co. introduced a thylacine bounties.
  • 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 Hobart Zoo.
  • 1936 World’s last captive thylacine died in Hobart Zoo, ( 7/9/36).
  • 1936 Tasmanian tiger added to the list of protected Wildlife.
  • 1986 Thylacine declared extinct by international standards.

The Tasmanian Wolf

There are certain marsupial animals which look as though they belonged to the dog and cat tribes. They are called dasyures, and are beasts of prey. One of these is the Tasmanian wolf, or thylacine, as it is often called, which is so wolf-like both in appearance and habits that it fully deserves its name. But you can tell it from the true wolves at a glance by the dark, zebra-like stripes upon its back, and also by its long slender tail, which tapers down almost to a point. It is also known as the zebra-wolf and the tiger-wolf. The Tasmanian wolf used to be very common indeed, for it was the most powerful of all the Tasmanian animals, so that it had no natural foes, while it was very seldom killed by the natives. But when white settlers came to live in the country they found that it killed so many of their sheep that it was necessary for them to do all that they could to destroy it. So numbers of Tasmanian wolves were shot, and numbers more were caught in traps, and by degrees the animal was driven back, until now it is only found in wild and rocky districts among the mountains, which are scarcely ever trodden by the foot of man. There are very few of the Australian animals which do not fall victims to this fierce and savage creature. Even kangaroos are killed by it at times. And it has been known to destroy and devour the echidna, which is something like a small porcupine. But besides feeding upon living prey, it will feed heartily upon any carrion that it may find, and will also prowl about on the sea-shore in search of the various dead animals which are flung up by the waves. The Tasmanian wolf is a nocturnal animal, remaining hidden all day long in some deep recess among the rocks, into which no ray of sunshine can ever penetrate. It does not like the daylight at all, and seems most uneasy if it is brought out from its retreat. And, strange to say, it has a kind of inner eyelid, which it draws across its eyes every moment or two in order to keep out the light as much as possible.

thylacine illustration

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On wildlife and other “goods” for sale

Fortunately these days trade in Australian wildlife is highly regulated and in many cases prohibited.   This item appeared in 1845, before such rules and laws were in place to protect native species.  Follow ups on Mr Roach and his business lead to a more disturbing find.

Sydney Morning Herald – 27 January 1845

In 1843, J W Roach was advertising his taxidermy museum and aviary in the Australasian Chronicle. It read in part:

“The collection already contains, amongst others, some hundred specimens of the birds and animals of Australia, set up, and arranged in their most natural and pleasing forms. The want of such a repository has long been felt by the scientific and curious, and J. W. R. trusts that his collection, to which he respectfully invites the attention of the public, will meet the approbation of all who are engaged in the interesting and pleasing study of the most beautiful and perfect works of the Creator.”

In 1849, Roach was leaving the colony and instructed auctioneer Charles Newton to sell household goods and stock in trade.  Sydney Morning Herald – 3 September 1849

Items and ‘curiosities’ for sale from his museum and aviary are found in the auction notice. Distressingly, listed near the bottom of this ad is this – “a number of skulls of the natives of the various islands which will be found well worthy the attention of phrenologists

No words can atone for some past behaviours in the name of ‘science’.