Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus

One of Australia’s best-known marsupials, the Thylacine (or Tasmanian Tiger as it is fondly known), has not been recorded for many years and is considered to be extinct. It probably became extinct on mainland Australia more than 2000 years ago due to competition with the dingo. But in Tasmania where the dingo does not occur it survived to recent times. The last known individual died in Hobart’s Beaumaris Private Zoo (now closed) on 7 September 1936.

The Thylacine. Artist: John Gould

The Thylacine
Artist: John Gould. Source: Museum Victoria

In 1808 the species was first described in a scientific journal by the Surveyor-General of Van Diemen’s Land, George Harris, who named it Thylacinus cynocephalus, the ‘dog-headed pouched-dog’. A sandy-yellow carnivorous marsupial about the size of a wolf, it had 15 to 20 distinctive dark bars across the rump. The forefeet each had five pads, and the hindfeet had four.

What was its distribution?

Thylacines are known from fossil records in mainland Australia and New Guinea, where they lived until fairly recent times. When Europeans arrived in Tasmania the species was well established, with a range extending from the mountain-tops 1200 m above sea level to the coast. It seems that it was never common in rainforest or the button-grass plains of the south-west of the island.

What did it eat?

The natural diet of the Thylacine seems to have consisted mainly of kangaroos and wallabies. It was a predatory hunting animal and would lie in wait for its prey. In captivity, Thylacines accepted almost any food they were given. European settlers introduced sheep to Tasmania and the Government was led to believe that they were attacked by Thylacines. As early as 1830 the Van Diemen’s Land Company in north-eastern Tasmania placed scalp bounties on these marsupials. The Tasmanian Government followed in 1888, and Thylacines were killed in large numbers. Over 2000 scalps were taken in the period from 1888 to 1912.

How did the Thylacine breed?

It is claimed that females retreated to a lair in a hollow tree or rock cavity to rear their young. The breeding season extended throughout winter and spring. Like other marsupials, they were born at an early stage of development and were carried by the mother for the first few months of life. In the backward-facing pouch there were four nipples, but usually a litter of two or three young were born and fed on milk in the pouch. Young Thylacines stayed with the mother until they were at least half-grown.

What led to its extinction?

The government encouraged culling of Thylacines along with habitat degradation through land clearing led to a rapid decline in numbers of the species. The last animal taken in the wild was shot at Mawbanna in 1930, and the last captive animal died in 1936. Little biological information was obtained when the species was plentiful, and most of our knowledge of Thylacines is based on the observations of the naturalists of the day.

Supposed sightings of the Thylacine are still reported, and many expeditions have been funded in an attempt to relocate this legendary marsupial. To date, no reliable Thylacine sightings have been made.

Two mounted Thylacines on display in a Museum

Two mounted Thylacines on display in a Museum – the only place you’ll see Thylacines today.
Photographer: John Broomfield. Source: Museum Victoria

Further Reading

Dixon, J. M. 1991. The Thylacine – Tasmania’s Tiger. Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.

Menkhorst, P. and Knight, F. 2001. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Paddle, R. 2000. The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.

Strahan, R. (ed.) 1995. The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Sydney.

Comments (12)

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ray harvey 27 October, 2009 19:28
i have about 50 prints of the thylacine which when im ready i will show the world . i also gave the quest for thylacoleo .com some of my other research . my grand father and uncle were asked by david fleay to find thylacines for him but i dont think they did others releashed them on the main land my research took me all over the main land until i found this last small group i only have prints now but i have saw them at close for short peroids.
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jack 1 October, 2010 19:49
There is good evidence that the creatures may still exit. They found foot prints only a decade ago.
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chela tnyi 30 October, 2010 23:43
evidence does exist but the so called experts cant identify it
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Peter 28 June, 2011 17:30
Footprints prove nothing.They could be anything and made up.
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evildoggie 4 July, 2011 15:17
Well, we don`t know if it is extinct or just in an not hospitable area, not accessible to humans.
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chela tnyi 18 July, 2011 17:59
i have sequences of plaster casts - 24- and photos of foot prints in a 40 footfall sequence as well as footprints of baby to adult thylas , male and female..........who is the expert who can say yah or nay?
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John Redenbach 29 July, 2012 12:02
10 years ago ,we thought we saw a large dog looking creature with stripes on its back near Cabbage Tree Creek in Victoria.We thought at the time it may have been some local kids having fun.We just drove the highway again and 50 k North of Orbost we saw a cub with stripes on its back cross the road. Does anyone know what it would have been? It looked like a fox and the hair looked quite long with a tail like a tiger and around 6 stripes that we're dark brown on its back
Wendy Reed 12 October, 2012 00:00
On 24 Septemer 2012 at 1.30pm I was driving towards Ballarat, Victoria and about 20km south of Ballarat I noticed that an animal was standing in middle of Glenelg highway as I approached in my car at 100KM/hour. I slowed to a stop on side of highway about 10 metres from it. It held me in it's gaze for a long moment until I looked down momentarily to find my camera. I could not quite make out what is was, possibly a (large fox, strange dog, fawn?) until I looked up, at which time, it turned and walked quickly back to edge of highway and into bushes. I realized from it's markings it had to be a Tasmanian Tiger. It had a fawn like face with pretty dark eyes, small pointed ears, was a fawn colour with about 6 greyish/black stripes about 6 inches in length radiating from spine downwards over it's back between shoulder and mid section. I think it's back area was mangy as it seemed more of a grey colour. It had a very long tapered tail, (no long hair) which stuck out continuously in a horizontal position, it's feet were a bit large and it had a strange tilt as if it's hind legs might be taller than front legs. It quickly disappeared back through the thick growth, possibly tussock in the fence with a number of holes pushed the through this. It did seem peaceful and walked in a quick regal manner. Height - slightly bigger than a Kelpie dog and wider shoulders, broad high back end. I am sorry I could not get my camera out of my bag in time to get a photo.
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Maxwell 23 August, 2012 10:39
The comment about the thylacine having been reintroduced onto the mainland at some time in the distance past of early european settlement does have some credibility. A wild tasmanian devil was found in the thick forests of the Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide in the 1840's.. it was never established if there was a small population of them..in those times there was broadly no interest at all in the wildlife..it existed to be shot for "sport" or eaten. Who knows what discoveries went with no reports. Platypusses existed in the creeks of the Adelaide Plain and ranges then...almost an unbelievable fact now. It is a disgrace the Thylacine and other unique Aussie Fauna was driven to what appears to be extinction and I have to say things are very little different these days for our wildlife.
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Tinesha Jones 3 September, 2012 13:26
GREAT WORK ! you have helped me in my school work!!.
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Brendan Prendergast 21 October, 2012 10:22
The Thylacine had been apart of the Australian mainland prior to the last wave of arrival what we call aborigine (I believe Yolngu tribe) around 4500 years ago. Amongst the rock paintings of the Arnhem land region there are old painting demonstrating that the Australian Tiger existed. I believe that the the Australian Dingo, or Asiatic wolf arrived with the last wave of these people. Spreading throughout Australia. Their effect on the Australian Tiger was devastating being better organised pack hunting dogs. Driven to extinction, it is conceivable that on the mainland Thylacines are still in existence. Tasmania was spared the presence of Dingo introduction which until the arrival of the white settlers protected the Tasmanian Tiger. Unfortunately with a bounty on their heads by the 1930's the Tassie tiger appeared to be virtually extinct. White settlers blamed the Tiger for many killings which may have also been the result of domestic dogs. Despite the type of diseases introduced and the disease that is plaguing Tasmanian Devils, which may also have contributed to the demise of the Tiger, it would be nice to believe that somewhere out there this rare marsupial tiger still exists. As with the marsupials found in Irian Jaya a few years back anything is possible.
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Will Joe 25 May, 2014 13:17
Very interesting indeed. 5 years have past since the original poster claimed to have evidence of 50 prints. When is that time or have they been submitted somewhere for verification and not had a positive response?
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