By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2012
Another year has passed since the last known thylacine – one of the greatest icons of extinction – died of exposure. That makes 76 years today.
We have celebrated the thylacine here at the Grant Museum for some time. We have some fantastic specimens – including one of the only fluid preserved adults (with the added bonus of having been dissected by Victorian evolutionary giant Thomas Henry Huxley), and skeleton from the early 1800s, which belonged to Grant himself. The only recent thylacine-based activity that happened at the Museum was for all our thylacine-geek colleagues to watch The Hunter together, a film about a bounty-hunter hired to collect the last individual for an evil bio-tech company. It was brilliant.
Here on this blog we have told tales of thylacine apparitions, potentially new specimens, the lessons of extinction and the thylacine’s own story, which ended so tragically on 7th September 1936. On 2012’s thylacine day I’m going to spread the net a little further.
Putting the exact date on the demise of a species is necessarily impossible – given the number of sightings since 1936, and a few other hints, it is extremely unlikely that the last Tassie tiger did die that day. Likewise for the “last” quagga which died 129 years ago last month. Nevertheless such dates give us an opportunity to celebrate them – in fact that’s why Australia’s National Threatened Species Day is today.
Given that locating the last members of a dwindling species obviously gets harder as numbers approach flat-line, declaring a species extinct could be argued to be meaningless. More often you hear conservationists hedge their bets with the phrase “functionally extinct” meaning that there are so few that the species has no hope of long-term survival. This year, however, the International Conservation Union (IUCN) – the body responsible for categorising how threatened species are – moved two animal species into the Extinct category: two molluscs (the ovate clubshell (Pleurobema perovatum) and Fish Springs marshsnail (Stagnicola pilsbryi).
This year’s other official casualties include two sub-species. The Pinta Island tortoise ceased to be when Lonesome George died on 24th June, and Japan’s Ministry of the Environment declared the Japanese river otter to have joined the list last week.
It goes without saying that these are not the only species to have gone forever this year – these are the ones to have been given an official send off. So when you raise your glass in memory of the thylacine this evening, as thylocinophiles will be doing the world over, have a few more sips for George, the snails and everything else no-one will ever see again.