Tasmanian Tiger: Lost remains of the last Thylacine found hidden in plain sight


For decades nobody knew where the remains of the last thylacine or Tasmanian tiger were.

They turned out to be hiding in plain sight at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in the Australian island nation, where they had not been identified for more than 80 years.

About the size of a coyote, the thylacine disappeared from virtually all but Tasmania about 2,000 years ago. As the only apex marsupial living in modern times, it played a key role in the island’s ecosystem, but this also made it unpopular with humans.

European settlers in Tasmania in the 19th century blamed thylacines for livestock losses (although in most cases feral dogs and mismanagement of human habitats were the culprits), and they hunted the elusive, semi-nocturnal Tasmanian tigers to extinction.

According to a TMAG press release issued Monday, the last known thylacine was an elderly female that was captured by a trapper and sold to a zoo in May 1936.

The animal died a few months later, and its body was then taken to the museum. However, the zoo kept no record of the sale because trapping on the ground was illegal – meaning the trapper could have been fined, the press release said.

This meant that researchers and museum staff were totally unaware of the importance of the thylacine in their collection.

“Many museum curators and researchers searched for his remains for years without success because there was no thylacine material recorded in the zoological collection from 1936, and it was therefore assumed that his body had been discarded,” said Robert Paddle, a comparative psychologist at the Australian Catholic University , in the press release.

A Thylacine on display at the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia in 2002.

After being brought to TMAG, the thylacine’s body was skinned and its skeleton dissected as part of an educational collection used by museum teachers to explain thylacine anatomy to students and often transported outside of the museum, according to the publication.

During this time, most of the world’s people mistakenly thought that another thylacine, which died on September 7, 1936 at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, was the last known individual of its kind.

The error was only recently noticed when an unpublished museum taxidermist report was discovered. The 1936-1937 report mentioned a thylacine among the specimens worked on that year – leading to a review of all thylacine skins and skeletons at TMAG, where the last thylacine was eventually identified.

“It is bittersweet that the mystery surrounding the remains of the last thylacine has been solved and discovered to be part of the TMAG collection,” said TMAG Director Mary Mulcahy.

The remains are now on display to the public in the museum’s Thylacine Gallery.

In recent years, the Tasmanian tiger has made headlines again due to the ongoing – and controversial – efforts by scientists to bring the animal back through harvesting ancient DNA, gene editing and artificial reproduction.

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