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Happy 76th Thylacine day

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.

Thylacine at ZSL

Thylacine: A species that was alive within living memory

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.

3 Responses to “Happy 76th Thylacine day”

  • 1
    Helen Hales wrote on 7 September 2012:

    Fascinating, in a sad way. I had never heard of a thylacine. Makes you think of the current endangered species that our grand-children may never have the chance to see. If we can’t save them, a poor second best is to at least fully document them!

  • 2
    chela tnyi wrote on 8 September 2012:

    they are alive and kicking on the mainland

  • 3
    Col Bailey wrote on 8 September 2012:

    Despite popular opinion that the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger is now extinct, it is my firm and unshakable belief that the species lives on.
    Over the past 45 years I have thoroughly researched this animal and field investigations have convinced me that, somewhat miraculously, the Tasmanian tiger has managed to hold on to the present day.
    A visual close-up sighting in March 1995 in the south west of the State, as well as numerous scent and sound sightings since have confirmed my belief.
    The future for the tiger looks decidedly foreboding with wilderness perimeters continually being pushed back by the concentrated efforts of both tourism and commercial-type operations.
    The very worst scenario may well be the day we wake up to the fact that the Tasmanian tiger was still lingering on until quite recent times, but refusing to believe it, we again did nothing to save it from ultimate extinction.

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