To all that are unaware, not that long ago a true beauty roamed the small island situated at the bottom of Australia. A strange concoction of wolf, tiger and kangaroo, roamed the beautiful forests of Tasmania. Because of its stripes the strange marsupial was given the name Tasmanian Tiger, although other than the stripes resembling, the strange creature was far from feline.
Depicted as a villain by European settlers, this “beast” quickly became a legend on mainland Australia and not too long ago (1936) became a legend worldwide. The 7th of September was a sad day for mankind, when the last thylacine passed away at Hobart Zoo. The thylacine being the first recorded species to become extinct in Tasmania! -and who is to blame… US! Well not specifically “us” (you and me) but humans!
When the European settlers arrived in Tasmania they were immediately threatened by this unusual creature, quickly coming to the conclusion that it was a threat to their livestock. The government ran with this claim and hastily set a bounty to bring down as many of these animals as possible.
This claim, completely unwarranted as I will explain shortly, resulted in excess of 2180 government payouts between the years of 1888- 1909. Now that was just the second round of bounties as they began these offers in 1830. Although these massacres couldn’t have helped the situation I don’t believe this was the only cause in the lead up to it’s demise.
Unfortunately I still feel strongly that although perhaps not humans directly, as I am about to explain, the end of the thylacine should still weigh heavily upon us as one of many tragic ends to a magnificent, and a little bit strange, species.
In ecology, the removal of a top predator, such as the thylacine, can cause huge disruption (and sometimes even the collapse) of an ecosystem. We have seen this happen before in Yellowstone National Park with the removal of wolves leading to changes in, not just the food web, but to the physical environment itself. I’m sure we are threatened by greater predators and is often why we demolish them – but in the thylacine’s case I have reason to believe, their true demise was due to our best friend. Man’s best friend, the dog!
In 2008 a paper was published by Emma Young that used 3D virtual reality technology to model the skull of the thylacine. They use a technique called finite element analysis (FEA),which allowed them to model transmission of stress and strain through a material. This allowed them to test the skull of the thylacine to see whether it could adapt to eating larger prey, such as the European’s livestock.
The results showed that the thylacine’s skull was not properly adapted for biting into large prey- unlike our introduced friend the, “wild dog”, the dingo. This means that not only was it most likely NOT the culprit to the disappearance of livestock for which it was now being hunted, but was now being outcompeted by a species WE introduced.
Although this is a sad tale of humans being the cause of yet another extinction, it may please you to hear that some people believe it still exists. I myself have not seen evidence of this. However, there is evidence that suggests science could clone a thylacine with DNA saved from the last recorded thylacine at Hobart Zoo. Although this would be wonderful, I think the money is better off being put towards conservation of threatened species today and not to one that has already been tragically lost.
I hope the tale of the thylacine is a cautious one. We need to assess situations more carefully before jumping to conclusions, or else it could lead to yet another tragedy.
Photos provided by flickr, click photo to find out more.
To read more about studies on the Thylacine skull click here