For decades, no one knew where the remains of the last thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, were.
It turns out they were hiding in plain sight – at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in the Australian island state, where they had gone unidentified for over 80 years.
About the size of a coyote, the thylacine disappeared about 2,000 years ago almost everywhere except in Tasmania. As the only marsupial apex predator that lived in modern times, it played a key role in the island’s ecosystem, but that also made it unpopular with humans.
European settlers in Tasmania in the 1800s blamed thylacines for livestock losses (although in most cases wild dogs and poor human habitat management were actually the culprits), and they hunted the shy, semi-nocturnal Tasmanian tigers to extinction.
The last known thylacine was an old female captured by a trapper and sold to a zoo in May 1936, according to a TMAG statement released on Monday.
The animal died a few months later, its body having then been transferred to the museum. But the zoo kept no record of the sale because ground trapping was illegal – meaning the trapper could have been fined, the statement said.
This meant that researchers and museum staff were completely unaware of the importance of the thylacine in their collection.
“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for his remains without success, because no thylacine material dating back to 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and it was therefore assumed that his body had been discarded,” said Robert Paddle, a comparative psychologist. of the Australian Catholic University, in the press release.
After being brought to TMAG, the thylacine’s body was flayed and its skeleton disassembled 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 press release.
Meanwhile, most of the world mistakenly thought that another thylacine that died at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart on September 7, 1936 was the last known individual of its species.
The mistake was only realized recently, when an unpublished museum taxidermist’s report was discovered. The report, dated 1936-1937, mentioned a thylacine among the specimens worked that year – prompting an examination 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 it has been found to be part of TMAG’s collection,” said Mary Mulcahy, director of TMAG.
The remains are now on display in the museum’s Thylacine Gallery for the public.
In recent years, the Tasmanian tiger has re-emerged in the headlines due to scientists’ ongoing – and controversial – efforts to bring the animal back through ancient DNA recovery, gene editing and artificial breeding. .