The Tiger from Tasmania
by Margaret Etherton
Millions of years ago in the darkest forests of Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia, there lived a strange creature. It was striped like a tiger, had a dog-shaped head, and hunted in packs like a wolf! But surprisingly, it fed its babies on milk and carried them in a pouch. What was this strange, almost mythical creature? It was a thylacine, sometimes called a "pouched wolf" or a "Tassie tiger"---the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.
There is evidence to suggest that the native Tasmanian Aborigines hunted and ate thylacine meat. When the first European settlers arrived in Tasmania in 1803, they caught glimpses of this animal that only hunted at night. Sometimes, the stories of its wild behavior were exaggerated. The settlers killed it whenever they could, because they were afraid of it.
The thylacines long, thin body was longer than a dogs. Its head was fat and its tail was pointy, stiff, and shaped like a kangaroos tail. It was colored yellow-brown with 15 to 20 dark stripes across its back that gave it camouflage like a tiger in dappled light under trees. This animals mouth was thought to be the widest of any known mammal.
Like Tasmanian devils and quolls (small carnivorous cat-like animals) who still are alive today, the thylacine was a marsupial. It was the largest of all the four-legged marsupials. Its pouch opened up to protect the young, who were born tiny and hairless. The thylacine usually had three babies at a time. Six months later the mother left the pups in a safe place while she looked for food.
During the day the thylacine rested in the woodlands and at night it came out to hunt.
The thylacine didnt run easily. When it trotted it looked very awkward, but it could hop and sit up on its back legs like a kangaroo and it was able to leap two to three meters (6 to 10 feet) into the air. While hunting, the thylacine chased its prey to the point of exhaustion. Thylacines preferred wallabies, bandicoots, kangaroos, small rodents, and birds.
At one time, thylacines were widespread over Australia, extending north to Papua New Guinea and south to Tasmania. The Aborigines painted them on rocks in areas like the Kimberleys in Western Australia. Also, scientists have found fossils of many different species of thylacines all over Australia. Within 100 years of the arrival of the white settlers however, all of the thylacines were dead. All that remains to tell us that the thylacine actually existed is a jerky film clip, some black and white photos, a skeleton, some floor rugs make from pelts, and a pup preserved in alcohol.
Why did the thylacine die out? Its habitat was destroyed by humans and other animals, such as dogs and dingoes, which competed with its source of food. Because farmers thought that thylacines were eating their sheep, the government paid money, called a bounty, for every animal killed. Also, the thylacine was easily stressed. When it was captured, it gave up and often died of shock! In the end, the thylacine was hunted to extinction. Though sometimes, people often report seeing one in the distance, no one has been able to photograph or to prove that a thylacine still exists today.
Bailey, Jill. Factfile of Mammals 200 Mammals From Around the World. London: Andromeda Oxford Ltd., 1996.
MacDonald, David, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. London: Oxford University Press, 2001.
May, John, and Michael Marten. The Book of Beasts. London: Hamlyn Paperbacks, 1982.
Myers, Philip. Mammals, An Explore Your World Handbook. NY: Discovery Books, 2000
Margaret Etherton is a teacher, tutor and writer. She has taught a range of subjects, such as reading, writing, mathematics and computers to people of all ages - from small kids to seniors. Her publishing credits include over twenty fiction and non-fiction articles for Australian School Magazines. Many of her stories have been created about animals from an interesting viewpoint or with a twist in the telling. Margaret lives close to the beach in Sydney with her husband, her four children and her cat, Mushka.