Friday, September 21, 2007
IS THE THYLACINE EXTINCT?
Could be best evidence yet of the existence of the Tasmanian Tiger.
The last known wild Thylacine to be killed was shot in 1930, by farmer Wilf Batty in Mawbanna, in the North East of the state. The animal (believed to be a male) had been seen round Batty's hen houses for several weeks.
The last Thylacine, later referred to as Benjamin (although its gender has never been confirmed) was captured in 1933 and sent to the Hobart Zoo where it lived for three years. It died on 7 September 1936 (now known as National Threatened Species Day in Australia). It is believed to have died as the result of neglect — locked out of its sheltered sleeping quarters, it was exposed to a rare occurrence of extreme Tasmanian weather: baking heat in the day and freezing temperatures at night. One of the few existing films of a Thylacine, 62 seconds of black-and-white footage of Benjamin pacing backwards and forwards in its enclosure, was taken in 1933.
Although there had been a conservation movement pressing for the Thylacine's protection since 1901, driven in part by the increasing difficulty in obtaining specimens for overseas collections, political difficulties prevented any form of protection coming into force until 1936. Official protection of the species by the Tasmanian government was introduced on 14 July 1936, 59 days before the last known specimen died in captivity.
The results of subsequent searches indicated a strong possibility of the survival of the species in Tasmania into the 1960s. Searches by Dr. Eric Guiler and David Fleay in the north-west of Tasmania found footprints and scats that may have belonged to the animal, heard vocalisations matching the description of those of the Thylacine, and collected anecdotal evidence from people reported to have sighted the animal. Despite the searches, no conclusive evidence was found to point to its continued existence in the wild.
The Thylacine held the status of "endangered species" until 1986. International standards state that any animal for which no specimens have been recorded for 50 years is to be declared extinct. Since no definitive proof of the Thylacine's existence had been found since Benjamin died in 1936, it now met that official criterion and was declared officially extinct by the IUCN. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is more cautious, listing it as "possibly extinct".