| "When attempting
to piece together an account of thylacine behaviour one must first correct
the misconceptions of the past. During the nineteenth and early part
of the twentieth century, the scientific community perceived the thylacine
as being an evolutionary relic; primitive and ill-adapted to its island
home. This mindset tainted their view of its behaviour. The thylacine
was considered as being slow, dumb, stupid, and cowardly; all of which
could not be further from the truth. Possibly the reason that so
little was written about the thylacine's behaviour was due to this presumption;
the scientific community taking the view that little
could be learnt from the study of this 'unremarkable' marsupial carnivore".
Sleightholme (pers. comm. 6th April 2012)
Dr. Eric Guiler (1985)
made the following retrospective critique on the scientific study of the
"We must condemn
our predecessors for not investigating a species that was both interesting
and, even then, rare enough to excite curiosity. No one ever contemplated
field research programmes on the species, and the thylacine had almost
disappeared by the time the science of ecology was being developed in Tasmania".
The few published scientific references to thylacine behaviour are restricted
in the main to casual observations of captive animals. For insights
into natural behaviour we have to rely on historical newspaper accounts
and the recollections of the Tasmanian
bushmen who hunted and observed the thylacine in the wild. It
will be to these historical sources that reference will be made in an attempt
to construct an accurate picture of the thylacine's natural behaviour.
In this task, the findings of modern-day research will be examined, and
where appropriate, incorporated into any conclusions.
male thylacine at the London Zoo (circa 1904) by W. P. Dando. This
thylacine was obtained from the animal dealer William Jamrach, and was
resident at the zoo from 26th March 1902 until its death on the 17th January
1906. It was one of two thylacines that were dissected by Beddard
In 2008, a team of researchers
headed by Dr. Menna Jones of the University of Tasmania published a paper
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science entitled "Life
history change in disease-ravaged Tasmanian devil populations" (Jones
et al. 2008) in which it was noted that Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus
harrisii) are now breeding at a much earlier age to counter the ravages
of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD); and
then only once: "Before the disease, the modal female began seasonal
breeding at age 2 and produced a litter annually for 3 years, with senescence
and death occurring in her fifth or sixth year (Jones / Guiler / Pemberton).
Females now generally have one breeding opportunity and may not survive
long enough to rear that litter. Hence, they are now largely semelparous".
like the Tasmanian devil, are more likely to exhibit such aberrant behavioural
patterns. It is highly probable that as the thylacine became increasingly
rare at the beginning of the 20th century, there were behavioural changes
within the wild population to reflect this compromised status. This
of course has always been true with captive individuals.
Therefore, when commenting on the "natural" behaviour of the thylacine,
a degree of caution needs to be exercised with observations made on what
would have been a stressed population in the early part of the 20th century.
Nineteenth century accounts are far more likely to be reliable representations
of what might be termed "normal" behaviour.
The thylacine is the
largest marsupial carnivore to exist within Australia in modern times,
and has traditionally been viewed as being ecologically closer to the smaller
canids, like the fox or the coyote, than the wolf. The earliest record
relating to the thylacine's diet was that made by Harris (1808):
"On dissecting this
quadruped, nothing particular was observed in the formation of its viscera,
& C., differing from others of its genus. The stomach contained
the partly digested remains of a porcupine anteater,
Myrmecophaga aculeate (=Tachyglossus