Researchers in North Queensland are launching a new study of Tasmanian tigers, following a series of sightings in Cape York.
James Cook University scientists Professor Bill Laurance and Dr Sandra Abell plan to use more than 50 camera traps to survey areas where Tassie tigers have been reportedly seen.
ABC reports that Dr Abell became interested after hearing about a particular sighting by former tourism operator Brian Hobbs on ABC’s Far North.
The sighting also piqued the interest of Professor Laurance who said the account was “fair dinkum”, adding that the person who made the sighting was “quite detailed in terms of his descriptions of eye shines and aspects of the body pattern and movements”.
Animal sightings may seem like no big deal until you consider that the Tasmanian tiger has been extinct for decades.
According to the Australian government, the last Tasmanian Tiger (Thlanicnus cynocephalis) died in the Hobart Zoo over eighty years ago.
The animal, also known as a Thylacine, was not actually a tiger and had more in common with its marsupial cousin, the Tasmanian devil.
However, Tasmanian tigers were very unique, exhibiting an almost Frankenstein-style combination of several other animals.
It had a head like a wolf, a striped body like a tiger and a backward-facing pouch similar to a wombat. Fully grown, the tigers would reach the size of a medium-large dog and weigh around 30 kilograms.
Although they were called “tigers” the temperament of this animal was shy and they would avoid contact with people.
The government’s report on the Tasmanian tiger points the blame of their extinction squarely on humans (it’s always us, isn’t it?)
Settlers introduced sheep in 1824, and the tigers found them an easy prey. This displeased the farmers, and in 1830 the Van Diemen Land Company offered a bounty for each thylacine scalp.
In 1888, the Tasmanian government increased the bounty, paying over 2,000 of them by 1909.
Along with the bounties, habitat destruction and disease further ravaged the already dwindling Tasmanian tiger population. In 1936, the last known thylacine died in Hobart Zoo. Here is some rare footage of it, captured in 1933:
Since 1936, there have been many recorded sightings of the Tasmanian tiger and the recent sightings have rekindled interest in the long lost creature.
Dr Abell and Laurance told ABC that they are wary about releasing too many details about their study because they don’t want people interfering. Laurance said:
We’re not worried too much about legitimate scientists doing that, but we’re a little worried about what you might call the ‘yobbo effect’ — where somebody hears about it and then wants to go and shoot one of these things.
Hobbs may have shared his sighting recently, but he claims that it actually occurred in 1983, which is still a relatively long time ago.
At this point, it is unclear if there are indeed any Tasmanian tigers left. However, Dr Abell told NPR that we should resist making comparisons to “mythical” animals such as the Yeti or Loch Ness monster.
The Tasmanian tiger was – or is – real. The researchers hope that their study will rewrite the history books and bring the animal back from the dead.