Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Thylacine Myth

Two Tasmanian tigers in Hobart Zoo prior to 1921. Photographer unknown.

Two Tasmanian tigers in Hobart Zoo prior to 1921. Photographer unknown.

By Marie Attard & Stephen Wroe

A new study of the biomechanics of the Tasmanian tiger’s skull debunks the hysteria behind the campaign that led to its extinction.

Marie Attard is a postgraduate student studying the diet of Tasmanian tigers at the University of NSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, where Stephen Wroe is a Senior Research Fellow and the director of the Computational Biomechanics Research Group.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

They were one of Australia’s great biological mysteries, a biscuit-coloured marsupial with a large head, bold dark stripes down its back and a reverse-facing pouch. To newly arrived European settlers, this elusive New World creature was a Tasmanian oddity that inevitably became a source of confusion, contempt and fear. Now, 75 years after the last known individual died in captivity at Hobart Zoo, the thylacine – or Tasmanian tiger – remains one of the least-understood of Australia’s native animals.

But modern research is beginning to lift the veil and reveal the tiger’s true nature. In our laboratory, for instance, advanced computer modelling of the Tasmanian tiger’s skull suggests that it was not well-adapted to tackle large prey. Its skull was big but lightly constructed, and more suitable for tackling wallabies and bandicoots.

Isotope-based research is beginning to provide direct evidence of the Tasmanian tiger’s diet. Such techniques will also help to gain a more thorough understanding of diet and lifestyle in increasingly rare Australian species.

The fossil history of Tasmanian tigers in Australasia dates back some 23 million years, and has revealed surprising diversity. Twelve fossil species from this family are now known.

The lineage was wiped out from mainland Australia around 3000 years ago, and possibly earlier in New Guinea....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.