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In Spain you can see one of the best stuffed Tasmanian tigers in the world

On the night of September 7, 1936, Benjamin died. It was the last known specimen of Thylacinus cynocephalus . With the death of Benjamin, this species, popularly known as the Tasmanian tiger or marsupial wolf, was declared extinct. The black and white photos and videos of the last thylacine, which lived in captivity in the Hobart Zoo, located on the Australian island of Tasmania, where the last specimens survived before extinction, are lovingly kept. Those graphic documents are what we have left to be able to observe a Tasmanian tiger alive. At least for now, as a group of scientists is trying to bring him back to life.

Ultimo tigre tasmania

Photograph of Benjamin, at the Hobart Zoo, the last known Tasmanian tiger. 1933 | Wikipedia.

Many species have disappeared from our planet since modern humans colonized most of the habitable world. In the case of Australia, the figures are especially dramatic. About a third of contemporary mammal extinctions have occurred in Australia since the arrival of Europeans. The thylacine is among one of the last exponents of this loss of diversity in life on Earth.

The names by which the species is popularly known respond, as usual, to characteristics that remind us of more common animals in the Western world. The thylacine had a body similar to that of a medium-sized dog, with fur in light brown tones. However, it had a stiff tail and, most distinctively, between 13 and 22 stripes of a darker color that ran across the top from the butt to the back.

This trait is what has led it to be called the Tasmanian tiger which, together with its long snout and canine-like dentition, shares a popular name with the marsupial wolf . And here is its true distinctive feature. Despite the comparisons with tigers and wolves, we are dealing with a marsupial , which is recognized for raising its offspring in a bag, the marsupium, as is the case with the famous kangaroos and koalas.

The thylacine’s morphology allowed it to evolve in Australia, where its agility allowed it to hunt down prey to devour with its powerful jaw, capable of opening up to eighty degrees.

The first description of the Tasmanian tiger is due to Governor Willian Paterson. He published it in number 112 of the “Sydney Gazette and new South Wales advertiser”, in 1805, after he found the carcass of a thylacine that had been attacked by dogs. After a detailed description of the specimen, of which he measured all its body parts, he concluded by saying that:

“The shape of the animal is that of a hyena, while at the same time strongly reminding the observer of the appearance of a lowly dog or wolf. The lips do not seem to hide the fangs. The testicles concealed in a pouch between the hind legs, the pouch shaped almost like that of the female kangaroo.”

Three years later, GP Harris would dedicate the first scientific description to it, in which he named the species: Didelphis cynocephala , following Carl von Linnaeus’ assignment to American marsupials. In 1810, EG Saint Hilaire changed the genus to Dasyurus. Finally, in 1824, CJ Temminck classified it as Thylacinus cynocephala.

Sadly, the thylacine brought together a series of reasons that led it to inevitably disappear. At the end of the 18th century, the first European settlers arrived in Australia and soon expanded their way of life. His crops, farms with cattle, his firearms and faithful companions wherever man goes: dogs and rats. All of these elements turned against an animal that had hardly had any competition for its resources.

The thylacines began to hunt the settlers’ sheep. From 1888, the Tasmanian government organized a system whereby a pound was paid for each adult thylacine delivered dead and ten shillings for a young. There was no protective order for these animals until July 1936, just 59 days before Benjamin’s death. By then, the extermination carried out by hunters was already irremediable. Added to this indiscriminate hunting of the thylacine was the new competition from dogs , which did not exist in Australia until the arrival of Western man and new diseases in their habitat, which produced an epidemic that wreaked havoc among the thylacine population during the 1920s.

Tilacino museo Madrid

Specimen exhibited at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. Jesus Judge.

Today we can only see the thylacine in photos, video or dissected. For the latter case, we have one of the best specimens in Madrid. The Museum of Natural Sciences exhibits a thylacine that was acquired in December 1917 in the famous London taxidermy shop of Rowland Ward Ltd. According to the invoice kept in the museum, the excellent piece was paid 618 pesetas at that time, which means one €3.71 today.

A project between the University of Melbourne and the American company Colossal have the objective of bringing the thylacine back to life through genetic engineering. They believe that in ten years they could “resurrect” the species through cloning . However, they intend to introduce the Tasmanian tiger into its natural habitat, which, beyond the moral doubts of these processes, has generated criticism in a sector of the scientific community, which argues that it was precisely this habitat that ended the thylacine and do not believe that the results would be satisfactory.

References :

Martínez, C. 2018. The extinction of a legendary mammal .

Menzies, B. et al. 2012. Limited Genetic Diversity Preceded Extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger . PLoS ONE 7, 4, e35433. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035433.

EFE Agency. 2022. Scientists seek to genetically “resurrect” the extinct Tasmanian tiger .

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