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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Happy Thylacine Day: we haven’t learned – just look at the badgers

By Jack Ashby, on 7 September 2011

Thylacine at ZSL

Thylacine: A species that was alive within living memory

Picture this: an animal in a zoo dies of exposure one night because the door allowing it to return to the inside area of its enclosure was accidentally locked shut. It’s early Spring and southern Tasmania gets pretty cold – a wire and concrete cage is no place for a warm-blooded creature to be kept outside. Pretty awful, eh?

Well that’s what happened to the last known thylacine 75 years ago today. The neglect itself would be shocking for any individual, let alone the sole known member of a species – the only remaining taxon in an entire family of animals. That day, a whole branch of the tree of life fell off. Well, in truth it was cut off. (more…)

Say Hello To My Little Friends

By Mark Carnall, on 1 August 2011

Image of the new models of Quagga, Dodo and Thylacine in the Grant Museum

These three specimens are the latest addition to the Grant Museum collection. Before the museum moved, model maker Tom Payne came into the museum and asked if there were any models he could make for the museum.  After some discussion we decided that we’d like to have little life models made of three of our highlight specimens, the quagga, thylacine and dodo. We reference these three specimens a lot but unfortunately, to the untrained eye the skeletons look much like a horse, a dog and a box (now two boxes) of bones.  In particular the quagga and thylacine have interesting fur colouration so we wanted to display this and quagga and thylacine skins are in rather short supply these days. (more…)

Live from Tasmania, for now

By Jack Ashby, on 8 April 2011

This week I’ll take a break from my delayed account of last year’s fieldwork because I’m back in Tasmania out in the field with the University of Tasmania’s School of Zoology.

Rejoining the project I was on last year, looking at the ecosystem effects of the massive crash in the Tasmanian devil population, this field trip is slightly less glamorous than trapping the devils, partly because they are practically extinct here up in the northeast of the island, where contagious cancer first appeared 15 years ago. What we’ve been doing is counting sultanas – it doesn’t actually involve setting eyes on a single animal (apart from millions of ants), but intriguing all the same.

Sympathy for the devil – part one

By Jack Ashby, on 17 February 2011




Winter in the Tasmanian Highlands

At night it would reach -10 degrees in the Highlands

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account  of my time in the field.

Week Four

The next stage of my trip took me to Tasmania – my favourite place in the world. This was the research project I was most looking forward to – to trap Tasmanian devils and attempt to investigate a ray of hope in their battle with a contagious cancer. Devils are a badger-sized marsupial with a bit of a rep. They do hunt things up to the size of a small wallaby, but are best known for their skills at scavenging. They can eat every part of the carcass and have an impressive set of teeth. I once saw one climbing out of the anus of a dead pademelon, while two others were working their way in through the back. (more…)