Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) Largest Carnivorous Marsupial

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger with its cub


The Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine) looked like a large, short-haired dog or wolf with prominent dark brown stripes across its back. This stripy appearance, similar to a tiger, is why early European settlers called it the Tasmanian tiger. It was also referred to as the Tasmanian Wolf.

Its scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalis meaning pouched dog with a wolf's head. From this scientific name is derived its other commonly used name Thylacine (pronounced thigh-la-sin).

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


Tasmanian Tiger - Description What is a Tasmanian Tiger?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger with mouth open

The Tasmanian tiger resembled 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. Its body was about one meter in length with a stiff tail of about .5 of a meter. This gave it an overall nose-to-tail length of about 1.5 meters. An adult stood about 60 cm at the shoulders and weighed around 27kgs. Males were slightly larger than females.

The Tasmanian tiger had large black eyes with elliptical pupils, like a cat, which were well suited for night time vision. It was a quiet animal. The sounds it made included a low growl when it was irritated, a whine to communicate with others, and coughing barking when hunting or excited.

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. Unlike a wolf, the Tasmanian tiger's legs were shorter than that 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).

Video: See a Tasmanian Tiger walking

 

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger on hind legs

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 animal 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.

The Tasmanian tiger had an unusually wide gape with 46 teeth. It could open its mouth a full 120 degrees. However, it had relatively weak jaws and skull and didn't have a very powerful bite. This suggests that it 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.

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 elliptical 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.
  1. It had a stiff tail similar to a kangaroo. It couldn't wag its tail.
  2. This gave it an awkward walk and an ungainly trot.
  3. The Tasmanian tiger rarely moved fast, preferring a leisurely walk or trot to a sprint.
  4. It could also hop short distances like a kangaroo.
  5. The Tasmanian tiger had a huge mouth with 46 teeth.
  6. But it only hunted small prey because it had weak jaws and jaw muscles.
  7. It was an ambush predator, like a cat.
  8. When threatened, it opened its mouth wide, showing off its impressive teeth.
  9. The female had a rear-facing pouch.
  10. The male also had a pouch, in which it stored its scrotum and testicles!
  11. The Tasmanian tiger was once found throughout Australia.
  12. It became extinct on the mainland about 2,000 years ago, possibly due to the dingo.
  13. It survives on the island of Tasmanian, which didn't have dingos, until white settlers killed them off.
  14. The last Tasmanian tiger became extinct in 1936.
  15. Two weeks before laws were passed to protect it.

Tasmanian Tiger - Habitat Where Did Tasmanian Tigers Live?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger Distribution Map

The Tasmanian tiger's preferred habitat was open forest and grasslands, but with European settlement, it withdrew more and more into the dense forests of south-eastern Tasmania.

Scientific evidence and aboriginal rock paintings indicate that Tasmanian tigers were once widespread throughout Australia. They became extinct on the mainland around 2,000 years ago, possibly due to the introduction of the dingo. By the time first European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, they were only found on the island of Tasmania off the southern tip of Australia.

Being nocturnal animals, they hunted at night and spent their daytime in caves, rock piles, hollow trees and logs.


Tasmanian Tiger - Diet What did Tasmanian Tigers Eat?

Video: Rare video of Tasmanian tiger feeding

Tasmanian tigers ate small animals of no more than 5 kgs such as wallabies, bandicootpossums, other small animals and birds. The reason for this is that even though they had a large mouth, their long jaws and skulls were not strong enough to handle the stresses associated with pulling down large prey such as a kangaroo or wombat. The Tasmanian tiger was a specialised eater that preferred soft body tissue such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, and soft flesh. It rarely scavenged.

Early European settlers introduced many domestic animals such as poultry, sheep and rabbits. In time the Tasmanian tiger may also have preyed on these animals. These settlers used these exaggerated claims as justification for 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, given its weak jaws and skull, it is doubtful that a Tasmanian tiger would have attacked an adult sheep. Most of these killings were probably the work of feral dogs, descendants of dogs taken to the island in 1798.

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 already close to extinction.

Actually, this photograph is a 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.


Tasmanian Tiger - Hunting Strategy They had a Unique Way of Hunting

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger compared to a Dingo

Researchers at Brown University examined the elbow joints of cat-like animals such as tigers, lions, pumas, panthers and cats with dog-like animals such as jackals, wolves, foxes, dogs and dingoes for clues of their predator habits. They discovered that the Tasmanian tiger could rotate its arms so that the palm faced upwards, like a cat. Dog-like animals, such as dingoes and wolves, have arm structures that are more fixed in the palm-down position. With less arm-hand movement dog-like creatures are more suitable to hunt by pursuit and in packs.

The Tasmanian tiger's arm structure, on the other hand, made it more suitable for ambushing and grabbing its prey in a surprise attack. Its hunting tactics were more similar to that of a fox than a wolf or dog. Like a fox, it was a nocturnal hunter that relied on ambushing its prey like a cat. With its huge gape and mouth, it could undoubtedly have crushed the skull, throat or ribcage of the small prey it caught.


Tasmanian Tiger - Reproduction & Life Cycle Tasmanian Tiger Babies

Photo: Pair of Tasmanian Tigers

The Tasmanian tiger was a marsupial. That means that the female raised its young in a pouch on the outside of its body. Its pouch had its opening facing backwards, similar to that of a wombat. The male Tasmanian tiger also had a pouch, in which it stored its scrotum and testicles!

Very little is know of the reproductive characteristics of the Tasmanian tiger. It is assumed that they breed once a year between winter and spring. Their mating rituals are not known. 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,


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 predator which caused the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger was humans. They indiscriminately killed off these majestic creatures and drove them to extinction.


Tasmanian Tiger - Extinction Timeline When Did the Tasmanian Tiger become Extinct?

Photo: Tasmanian Tiger became extinct in 100 years

The thylacine had lived in Australia for over 4 million years before it became extinct. Fossil records indicate that its ancestry goes back at least 30 million years.

Photo: Bounty Hunter with his Prize

The thylacine lived on the Australian continent until about 2,000 years. It is believed that it became exist because of the introduction of the dingo, a wild dog initially brought 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 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 there. But in just 150 years it was extinct.

Photo: The Last Wild Tasmanian Tiger Shot

The last wild Tasmanian tiger was shot on 6 May 1930 by a farmer named Wilf Batty from Mawbanna in northeast Tasmania. Wilf claimed that the Tasmanian tiger, a male, was killing chickens in his henhouse. He stated that the dog in the photograph played no part in the deed. In fact, Batty remarked that dogs feared the Tasmanian tiger. 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).


Why the Tasmanian Tiger Became Extinct How Did the Tasmanian Tiger Become Extinct

How the Last Tasmanian Tiger Died

tasmanian tiger

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

Several factors contributed to the Tasmanian tiger's extinction. Most were caused by European settlers (the tigers had coexisted with the Aboriginals of Tasmania for thousands of years). 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 extinction. These factors together, some more than others, conspired to doom the Tasmanian tiger to extinction.

Photo: Carcasses of Tasmanian Tiger Killed

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 £1-per-head bounty for each animal, an enormous amount in those days, resulted in the death of 2,184 Tasmanian tigers. A private scheme operated by the Van Diem's Land Company between 1830 and 1914 records 81 bounties paid. A conservative estimate of 200+ is placed on the number of these animals killed as a result of private bounty schemes. From 1905 there was a huge decline in the number of bounties claimed, declining to zero by 1910, suggesting that a dramatic population collapse had occurred.

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 large number of animals that constituted its diet were killed for their pelts. These included small animals such as possums, wallabies, 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 and impacts the thylacine's chances of survival.

Introduced animals also carried diseases to which the Tasmanian tiger had no resistance to. 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.

It appears that the disease often referred to as "distemper" or distemper-like 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.

Protected Too Late

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

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.