The Thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf, was a carnivorous marsupial native to Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea. It is notable for its wolf-like appearance, its slim, elongated body, short sandy-colored fur, and dark stripes across its back and tail led to its “Tasmanian Tiger” nickname. The Thylacine is now considered extinct, with the last confirmed individual dying in captivity in 1936.
It is often cited as an example of a species driven to extinction due to human activities, including hunting, habitat destruction, and the introduction of invasive species. Thylacines had some unique features, including a stiff kangaroo-like tail and a pouch in females, similar to other marsupials.
Thylacinus cynocephalus, whose name means “dog-headed pouched one” — emerged about 4 million years ago. Once widespread across Australia, the animal disappeared everywhere except Tasmania about 2,000 years ago, according to the National Museum of Australia (NMA). The disappearance was likely due to competition with dingos. Modern people discovered the animal in Tasmania, thus its name.
They were about the size of a medium-sized dog, with an average length of about 39 inches and a height of 24 inches at the shoulder. Thylacines were carnivorous and primarily preyed on small mammals, birds, and other animals. They were known for their unusual jaw structure, which could open widely to deliver a powerful bite.
Like other marsupials, Tasmanian tigers had pouches. Their pouches’ opening faced their hind legs, though. In her pouch, a female could carry two to four hairless babies at once. As the babies grew, the pouch expanded to accommodate them. After the babies became older, the mother would leave the young in a lair, such as a cave or hollowed log, to go hunting.
They once inhabited various ecosystems, including grasslands, forests, and wetlands, but their range had become limited to Tasmania by the time of their extinction. The Thylacine’s decline began with the arrival of Europeans in Australia and Tasmania. They were hunted intensively, both for their perceived threat to livestock and as trophies.
Additionally, the introduction of non-native predators, such as dogs, further contributed to their demise. The last known Thylacine, named Benjamin, died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
Cloning a Thylacine is a topic that has been discussed and debated for many years, primarily as a means of potentially bringing the species back from extinction. However, there are several significant challenges and ethical considerations associated with the idea of cloning a Thylacine.
To clone a Thylacine, intact DNA is needed. While some preserved Thylacine specimens exist in museums, the quality and quantity of DNA extracted from these specimens might not be sufficient for successful cloning. Moreover, DNA degrades over time, making it more challenging to find suitable genetic material.
Cloning is a complex and challenging process, and as of my last knowledge update in September 2021, there have been no successful attempts to clone an extinct species like the Thylacine. The technology for de-extinction remains experimental and unproven.
The ethical implications of cloning extinct species are significant. Questions arise about whether it is ethically justifiable to bring back a species that went extinct due to human actions. There are concerns about the potential impact on existing ecosystems and whether cloned individuals could truly thrive in their natural habitat. The resources required for cloning efforts, including research, funding, and scientific expertise, could be substantial. Some argue that these resources might be better allocated to conserving endangered species and protecting their habitats. Reintroducing an extinct species into its former habitat could disrupt existing ecosystems. The ecological roles that the Thylacine once played might have already been filled by other species.
- Dingos, Canis lupus dingo, are wild canids native to Australia, believed to have been introduced to the continent by seafaring Indigenous peoples thousands of years ago. These medium-sized canines exhibit a diverse range of coat colors, from sandy to reddish-brown, and play a significant role in Australia’s ecosystem as apex predators, helping to control populations of introduced species like rabbits and wallabies. Dingos have faced various challenges, including hybridization with domestic dogs and controversial management strategies due to their interactions with livestock. Their conservation status varies across Australia, with some regions considering them a vulnerable species. Ongoing research aims to understand their ecological impact, genetics, and coexistence with humans to inform conservation efforts and maintain their vital role in Australian ecosystems. [Back]
- The Hobart Zoo, officially known as the “Beaumaris Zoo,” was a historic zoological park located in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Established in 1895, it was the second oldest zoo in Australia at the time of its closure in 1937. The zoo primarily housed native Australian wildlife, including Tasmanian devils and the last known Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger), named Benjamin, who died in captivity in 1936. The zoo played a significant role in the history of wildlife conservation and the preservation of endangered Tasmanian species. Today, the site of the former Hobart Zoo is a residential area, and its legacy is commemorated through historical markers and memorials. [Back]
- Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and Environment (DPIPWE). (2018). Thylacine. Tasmanian Government. https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/wildlife-management/threatened-species-and-communities/threatened-species/Threatened-species-listing/Threatened-species-and-communities-thylacine
- Museum Victoria. (2021). Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger). Museum Victoria. https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/species/9194
- Paddle, R. (2000). The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Cambridge University Press.
- “thylacine – extinct marsupial” https://www.britannica.com/animal/thylacine
- “Facts About Tasmanian Tigers” (By Alina Bradford published April 20, 2017) https://www.livescience.com/58753-tasmanian-tiger-facts.html
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. (2021). Dingo (Canis lupus dingo). https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/dingo
- Royal Zoological Society of Tasmania. (n.d.). Beaumaris Zoo – Hobart Zoo. https://www.rzst.org.au/about-zoos/zoo-history/beaumaris-zoo/