The Tasmanian Tiger became extinct on September 7, 1936, only two months after the Tasmanian government had granted the species protected status. Benjamin, the last known Tasmanian Tiger, died from exposure at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart when his keepers accidentally locked him outside overnight. The last wild Tasmanian Tiger is thought to have been killed by a hunter six years earlier.
In Latin, the Tasmanian Tiger is named the Thylacinus cynocephalus, or “dog-headed pouched one.” It is a fitting name; the animal had a wolf-like head, but it was actually the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. It looked like an unusual mix of a large house cat, a wolf, and a fox, with tiger-like stripes across its lower back and tail.
The most distinctive trait of the animal was the pouch present on both the male and female of the species. American anthropologist Richard K. Nelson said of the Tasmanian Tiger: “The thylacine is, or was, one of the most extraordinary and improbable animals on Earth — a kangaroo redesigned as a wolf.”
In the early 1800s, English colonists brought farming to the island of Tasmania, and livestock losses were soon frequent. The widespread population of the shy and semi-nocturnal Tasmanian Tiger quickly became the scapegoat for these losses.
Farmers began offering rewards for their skins, and in 1888 the Tasmanian government instituted a bounty system that lasted until 1909. During those 21 years, the government awarded nearly 2200 bounties. Hunting and trapping had sealed the fate of the Tasmanian Tiger by 1936.
Or maybe not.
In December of 2019, Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and Environment published a document revealing they have been investigating Tasmanian Tiger sightings for quite some time. More than 400 reported sightings have been investigated since 1936. Unfortunately, none of these sightings have offered definitive proof of a Tasmanian Tiger on the loose.
In 1999, Australian scientists started the Thylacine Cloning Project, which attempted to clone the elusive Tasmanian Tiger. The team of researchers used DNA from a sample of a female Thylacine. However, the sample had been preserved in alcohol for more than 100 years, and the DNA proved to be unusable.
This iconic animal has captured Australia’s imagination, and Australians have not stopped hoping they will one day find another Tasmanian Tiger.