The fabled Tasmanian tiger – exterminated for its carnivorous tendencies and mysterious physique – is still with us in spirit, if not in flesh.

Story & photos by Tim Dub

The Aboriginals had a legend to describe how the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, acquired its characteristic coat, but to the first European settlers of Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was known until 1856), the animal must have seemed more a creature of nightmare than of Dreamtime. It had the head of a dog (though the tiger had no link to the canidae family), the loping gait of a hyena, the stripes of a tiger and was said to have a taste for blood that quickly gave it a reputation as a vampiric wolf. This Frankenstein’s hound – seemingly assembled from the mammalian spare parts bin – was certainly strange and, with its marsupial pouch, quintessentially Australian. The early settlers, fearing for the safety of their sheep, set out to exterminate the beast.
Although the last tiger in captivity died in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936, and the species was officially declared extinct in 1986, the tiger’s possible survival is a divisive issue – even the Tasmanian Government is hedging its bets. “Since 1936, no conclusive evidence of a thylacine has been found,” the web site for Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries and Water attests. “However, the incidence of reported thylacine sightings has continued ... Although the species is now considered to be ‘probably extinct’, these sightings provide some hope that the thylacine may still exist.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #48

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2006