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7 September 2010

On this day in history: Last captive thylacine died, 1936

The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was a large carnivorous marsupial native to Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania. It is commonly called the 'Tasmanian tiger' because of the stripes on its back, and the 'Tasmanian wolf' because of its general appearance. Thylacines had a body length of between 1 and 1.3 metres (3.2 to 4.2 feet) and a shoulder height around 0.6 metres (2 feet).

By the time that European settlers arrived in Australia, the Thylacine was near extinction, possibly due to the arrival of the dingo thousands of years earlier. These wild dogs hunted in packs and, as omnivores, enjoyed a more varied diet than the thylacines, which were specialist hunters. Rock paintings provide evidence that the indigenous peoples sometimes hunted thylacines.

The thylacines on the island of Tasmania faired better. At the time of European colonisation, they still existed in relatively large numbers, especially on the north of the island. Even though they were rarely sighted, the thylacines were blamed for many attacks on sheep, resulting in the Van Diemen's Land Company introducing a bounty on the animal in 1830. This bounty, and a later one introduced by the Tasmanian Government, along with the introduction of wild dogs and diseases, the encroachment on habitat by farmers and the resultant diminishing of prey species all drove the thylacine towards extinction by the late 1920s.

A number of thylacines had been taken into captivity and held in zoos around the world. The last of these was captured in 1933 and taken to Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. This specimen - later known as Benjamin, although its sex was never determined - died on 7th September 1936, probably as a result of neglect.

Since then a number of people claim to have sighted thylacines in the wild but none of these sightings have been confirmed. Thus, the thylacine remains on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of extinct species. To mark the death of the last thylacine, in 1996 the Australian Government instituted the Threatened Species Day held annually on 7th September.

To find out more about this lost species visit The Thylacine Museum web-site.

Footage of the last captive thylacine taken in 1933.

Related posts
The quagga became extinct: 12th August 1883
First gorilla born in captivity: 22nd December 1956


John | English Wilderness said...

I hope a few survive in some remote location :-( There was a attempt to re-establish the species from DNA but it appears to have been abandoned :-(

Jason said...

You posted this last year on September 6, 2009... obviously not the same day.

Not very creative. What an inspiration to rid this RSS feed from my Google Reader!

You suck Modern Historian.

Stepterix said...

John: I don't know whether a few survivors would be enough to maintain the genetic integrity of the species. So, I think we may have seen the last of their kind.

.... and after over seven hundred posts on this blog I receive my first abusive comment...

Jason: A blog with repeated content is infinitely more creative than one with no posts at all.