Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine)Tasmanian Wolf

Tasmanian Tiger with its cub

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger with its cub

The Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine) was a carnivorous marsupial that looked like a large, short-haired dog or wolf with prominent dark brown stripes across its back. This stripy appearance, similar to that of a tiger, is why early European settlers called it a Tasmanian tiger.

The Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction by European settlers. The last Tasmanian tiger died of neglect in a zoo on 7 September 1936.

The Tasmanian tiger's scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalis meaning wolf-headed pouched dog. From this scientific name is derived its other commonly used name Thylacine (pronounced thigh-la-sin). It is also referred to as a Tasmanian wolf.


Tasmanian Tiger Description What is a Tasmanian Tiger?

The Tasmanian tiger looked like a large, short-haired dog with a stiff tail. It had thick, short, coarse yellowish-brown fur with 15 to 20 prominent dark brown stripes across its back.

Tasmanian Tiger Size

Photo: Tasmanian tiger was about the size of a dingo

The Tasmanian tiger was about the same size as a dingo dog. It had an overall nose-to-tail length of about 1.5 meters. Its body was about 1m (3.3ft) in length with a stiff tail of about .5m (1.5ft). An adult Tasmanian tiger stood about 60cm (2ft) at the shoulders and weighed around 27kg (60lb). Males were slightly larger than females.

Tasmanian Tiger Eyes

Photo: Elliptical pupils

The Tasmanian tiger had large black eyes with elliptical pupils, like that of a fox or a cat. Eyes with slit-like pupils are advantageous for nocturnal ambush predators, such as the Tasmanian tiger, because they allow the iris to expand and contract more dramatically to low light conditions and give the animal better depth perception and field of view.

Tasmanian Tiger Sounds

It was a quiet animal. The sounds it made included a low growl when irritated, a whine to communicate with others, and coughing and barking when hunting or excited.

Tasmanian Tiger Mouth & Jaws

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger with mouth open–wide gape

The Tasmanian tiger could open its mouth a full 120 degrees and had an unusually wide gape with 46 teeth. However, it had relatively weak jaws and skull and didn't have a powerful bite. As a result, its mouth was not strong enough to handle the stresses of pulling down and biting large prey such as a kangaroo or wombat. This suggests that the Tasmanian tiger ate only small prey under about 5kg in weight. When threatened, it would respond by opening its mouth wide and appear to yawn, showing off its impressive teeth and gape.

Tasmanian Tiger Pouch

Both male and female Tasmanian tigers had a pouch. The female Tasmanian tiger had a backward-facing pouch with four teats in which it raised a litter of up to four babies at a time. The male Tasmanian tiger also had a scrotal pouch in which it stored its scrotum and testicles! This feature was unique amongst the Australian marsupials.

Tasmanian Tiger Arms

Tasmanian tiger could rotate its arms so that the palm faced upwards, like a tiger or cat. This arm structure of the Tasmanian tiger made it most suitable for ambushing and grabbing its prey in a surprise attack. Also, the Tasmanian tiger's more flexible arm structure made them less suitable for hunting by fast pursuit and in packs.

Video: See a Tasmanian Tiger walking

Tasmanian Tiger Legs

The Tasmanian tiger had strong hind legs, which were longer than its front legs. This made the highest point of its pelvis slightly higher than its shoulders. The Tasmanian tiger's legs were shorter than those of an equivalently sized wolf. Its feet, however, were proportionally larger than that of a wolf's. Tasmanian tiger had a stiff, awkward walk and a somewhat ungainly trot. It was rarely seen to move fast. It was designed for a leisurely walk or trot and not for a sprint. (See the video for a more detailed explanation of how the Tasmanian tiger moved).

• How Did the Tasmanian Tiger Move?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger on hind legs

Tasmanian Tiger Tail

The Tasmanian tiger had a strong, stiff tail similar in some ways to that of a kangaroo. It held its tail rigidly behind it when it moved. It could not wag its tail. What is really unusual, however, is that to could also perform a bi-pedal hop like a kangaroo. To do this, the Tasmanian tiger would stand upright on its hind legs with its tail acting as a tripod support, in precisely the same way a kangaroo does. It could then hop short distances in this way. It could also easily stand upright on its hind legs. It has been suggested that the Tasmanian tiger used bi-pedal hops as a quick way of moving away when it was frightened or alarmed.


Tasmanian Tiger Habitat Where Did Tasmanian Tigers Live?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger Distribution Map

Tasmanian tigers originally lived in open forests, wetlands, and grasslands throughout Australia. But with the introduction of the dingo dog by humans about 5,000 years ago, the Tasmanian tiger became extinct on the mainland around 2,000 years ago.

By the time first European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, Tasmanian tigers were only found on the island of Tasmania off the southern tip of Australia (coloured green on map). But with European settlement, the Tasmanian tiger withdrew more and more into the dense forests of south-eastern Tasmania.


Tasmanian Tiger Diet What did Tasmanian Tigers Eat?

Video: Rare video of Tasmanian Tiger Feeding

The Tasmanian tiger ate small animals weighing no more than 5 kgs. The native animals the Tasmanian tiger preyed on included wallabies, bandicoots, possums, other small animals and birds. It was a specialised eater that preferred soft body tissue such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, and soft flesh. Starting in 1803, European settlers introduced many domestic animals such as poultry, sheep and rabbits. In time the Tasmanian tiger may also have preyed on these animals. Being nocturnal animals, Tasmanian tigers hunted at night. It rarely scavenged.

Although the Tasmanian tiger was about the size of a dog, it did not hunt down large prey. This is because, even though it had a large mouth with jaws that could open almost 90 degrees, its jaws and skulls were weak. As a result, its mouth was not strong enough to handle the stresses of pulling down large prey such as a kangaroo or wombat.

Early European settlers made many unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims of the damage Tasmanian tigers were causing to their livestock. They used these false claims to justify a vicious campaign to eradicate the tiger. However, recent research suggests that, while it may have been capable of attacking a lamb, rabbit or poultry, it is doubtful that a Tasmanian tiger would have attacked an adult sheep. Instead, most of these killings were probably the work of feral dogs, descendants of dogs taken to the island in 1798.

• Watch a video of the Tasmanian tiger eating


Tasmanian Tiger Reproduction & Life Cycle Tasmanian Tiger Pouch, Teats, Penis & Babies

Photo: Pair of Tasmanian Tigers

The female Tasmanian tiger had a backward-facing pouch with four teats. It raised a litter of up to four babies at a time. Tasmanian tiger babies were called joeys.

The male Tasmanian tiger had a two-pronged (bifurcated) penis located behind its scrotum. The male Tasmanian tiger also had a pouch in which it stored its scrotum and testicles!

Very little is known about the reproductive and mating characteristics of the Tasmanian tiger. It is assumed that they breed once a year between winter and spring. It is estimated that the gestation period for the young varying from 21 to 35 days, with an additional in the pouch period 3 to 4½ months before the young left the mother's pouch permanently. They then only returned to suckle and were fully weaned at 8 months. Juveniles remained with their mother for about 12 months before finally leaving the family unit to lead independent lives.

Their life expectancy is estimated to have been 5 to 7 years.

• Learn About Marsupial Reproduction


Tasmanian Tiger Extinction When Did the Tasmanian Tiger become Extinct?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger - extinct

The Last Tasmanian Tiger in the Wild

Photo: The Last Wild Tasmanian Tiger Shot

The last wild Tasmanian tiger was shot on 6 May 1930 by Wilf Batty, a farmer from Mawbanna in northeast Tasmania. Wilf claimed that the Tasmanian tiger was killing chickens in his henhouse. When Wilf brought the dead thylacine's body home, his dogs fled and didn't return for three days. (The dog does look frightened in the photograph). Since 1930, many people have claimed to have sighted Tasmanian tigers in the wild, but these sighting have never been confirmed.

How the Last Tasmanian Tiger Died in Captivity

Photo: The last Tasmanian Tiger that ever lived

The last Tasmanian tiger (photo) died from exposure to the cold on 7 September 1936 at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. The zoo-keeper forgot to lock the animal in its shelter for the night, and the animal froze to death on a cold concert floor. There were no news reports to record the animal’s passing. Its body was just thrown away. What an ignominious end to such a unique and splendid animal!

Requiem to a Magnificent Beast

The thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) had lived in Australia for over 4 million years before it finally became extinct on the island of Tasmanian in Australia on 7 September 1936.

It had lived on the Australian continent until about 2,000 years ago, when it became extinct because of the introduction of the dingo, a wild dog brought to Australia from Asia and adopted by many Aboriginal people as pets. The dingo was a pack hunter and far more efficient in catching prey than the thylacine. Over thousands of years, the dingo out-competed the thylacine for food, bringing about its extinction on the Australian mainland.

The dingo never made it across the ocean to the island of Tasmania, and thus the thylacine did not have to compete with it for food. Thylacines survived and coexisted with the local Aboriginal population living on the island at the time. When European settlers arrived in Tasmania, the Tasmanian tiger was still relatively common. But in just 150 years, it was extinct.


Why The Tasmanian Tiger Went Extinct Why the Tasmanian Tiger is Extinct

Photo: Carcasses of Tasmanian Tiger Killed

The Tasmanian tiger became extinct because of excessive hunting, habitat loss, and introduced diseases brought about by European settlers. While the general view is that it was hunted into extinction, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that there were many factors leading to its demise.

Commercial sheep grazing was introduced in Tasmania in the 1820s, and the Tasmanian tiger was unfairly accused of being a vicious sheep killer. Both private and government bounty schemes were introduced to kill the animals. The government scheme, which ran from 1888 to 1909, offered a £1-per-head bounty for each animal, an enormous amount in those days, resulting in the death of 2,184 Tasmanian tigers. The Van Diem's Land Company operated a private scheme between 1830 and 1914, records 81 bounties paid. A conservative estimate of 200+ is placed on the number of these animals killed due to private bounty schemes. From 1905 there was a massive decline in the number of bounties claimed, declining to zero by 1910, suggesting that a dramatic population collapse had occurred.

Photo: Bounty Hunter with his prize

Between 1878 and 1893, nearly 3500 tanned thylacine pelts were exported to London to be made into waistcoats. While the fur trade didn't directly lead to the Tasmanian tiger's demise, it did so indirectly as a large number of animals that constituted its diet were killed for their pelts. These included small animals such as possums, wallabies and platypuses on which the Tasmanian tiger fed.

The Tasmanian tiger almost exclusive hunted small prey less than about 5kgs in weight. Intensive competition from introduced carnivorous such as cats and dogs directly affected the availability of these smaller animals. This also impacted the thylacine's chances of survival.

Introduced animals also carried diseases to which the Tasmanian tiger had no resistance. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the population and genetic diversity within it, the greater its ability to resist disease. The Tasmanian tiger's relatively small population and lack of generic diversity made it especially vulnerable to introduced diseases.

Distemper or a distemper-like disease is recorded as affecting the Tasmanian tiger and several other native animals during the early 20th century. The Mercury newspaper of 19 October 1934 notes, "Disease, a type of mange, cleared the tiger". These diseases may have been introduced by domestic animals brought in by European settlers.

Starting in 1803, European settlers cleared large tracts of land for agriculture, forestry and urbanisation. These included native grasslands and grassy woodland, the preferred habitats of the Tasmanian tiger. For example, 360,000ha or 90% of Tasmania's grassy woodlands had been cleared by 1996. These human actions lead to habitat loss and the loss of native animals on which the Tasmanian tiger feed.

Over 200 of these unusual animals were captured and sold to zoos and circuses. A further 500 or so were killed as specimens for museums and universities. As their numbers declined, there was even more demand for the remaining few.

The Tasmanian government finally decided to list the Tasmanian tiger as a protected species on 10 July 1936, just 57 days before the last Tasmanian tiger died and the species became extinct.


Tasmanian Tiger Predators & Threats What Killed Tasmanian Tigers?

The adult Tasmanian Tiger was a formidable apex predator. It had no native animals that would attack it. However, domestic dogs and cats introduced by European settlers changed its dominance.

The major predators that caused the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger were humans. They indiscriminately killed off these majestic creatures and drove them to extinction.

The Tasmanian Tiger Falsely Accused

This photograph from 1921 purporting to show a Tasmanian tiger attacking chickens was widely circulated to stir up the public. This was at a time when this animal was rarely seen and was already close to extinction.

Actually, this photograph is fake. The tiger was a stuffed specimen from an exhibit, with a dead chicken placed in its mouth. In the original uncropped photograph, below, you can see dead branches placed in front of fencing and congregated iron sheets to make it appear as though the photograph was taken in the wild.


25 Tasmanian Tiger Facts

  1. The Tasmanian tiger got its name because of the tiger-like stripes on its back and tail.
  2. Actually, it looked more like a dog or wolf.
  3. That's why it was also called the Tasmanian wolf.
  4. Tasmanian tiger was the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.
  5. It was about 1.5m long, from its nose to the tip of its stiff tail.
  6. The Tasmanian tiger lived in open forest and grasslands.
  7. It had pupils like a cat's.
  8. This was well suited to its nocturnal behaviour. It was only seen after dark.
  9. It had a coughing bark when hunting or excited.
  10. The Tasmanian tiger had unusual legs. Its hind legs were longer than its front legs.
  11. It had a stiff tail similar to a kangaroo. It couldn't wag its tail.
  12. This gave it an awkward walk and an ungainly trot.
  13. The Tasmanian tiger rarely moved fast, preferring a leisurely walk or trot to a sprint.
  14. It could also hop short distances like a kangaroo.
  15. The Tasmanian tiger had a huge mouth with 46 teeth.
  16. But it only hunted small prey because it had weak jaws and jaw muscles.
  17. It was an ambush predator, like a cat.
  18. When threatened, it opened its mouth wide, showing off its impressive teeth.
  19. The female had a rear-facing pouch.
  20. The male also had a pouch, in which it stored its scrotum and testicles!
  21. The Tasmanian tiger was once found throughout Australia.
  22. It became extinct on the mainland about 2,000 years ago, possibly due to the dingo.
  23. It survives on the island of Tasmanian, which didn't have dingos, until white settlers killed them off.
  24. The last Tasmanian tiger became extinct in 1936.
  25. Two weeks before laws were passed to protect it.