(page 11)

Gait (continued):

    In an article by Ray Harris entitled "Hotch-potch wolf" published in the Chronicle newspaper of the 3rd July 1952 (p. 32), he makes reference to the thylacine's ability to hop or bound like a kangaroo:

    "As the great staghound charged, the marsupial wolf leapt clear and swung about - only to find his way barred by a fallen tree.  And then, with death but an instant away, an age-old something told him what to do.  He gathered his haunches and leapt again; but this time not as a wolf leaps.  His body rose over the tree and he landed - on his hind feet.  Then he flung forward, four-footed again, and the rain drenched forest closed round him".

Thylacine run sequence created by Arnfinn Holderer (2016), with technical contributions from C. Campbell and Dr. S. Sleightholme.  Click gear button in lower right corner and select "?" to view control options for changing viewing angle and distance.  This animation is copyright and unauthorized use strictly prohibited.
    In an article entitled "At the Zoo - Australian Animals - An Interesting Study" published the Daily Telegraph of the 15th February 1919 (p. 12) it states with reference to the thylacine's movements:

    "With the exception of the leopard, there is no wild creature that can give such a graceful, true spring at its mark.  The body seems to be all springs, and its movements are most interesting to witness".

    Henry Melville (1835) in "The History of the Island of Van Diemen's Land" notes the following observation on the thylacine's gait: "The hyena opossum or tiger......Its legs are short in proportion to the body, and it has a sluggish appearance, but in running it bounds like a kangaroo, though not with such speed".

   Henry Walter Parker (1833) in "Van Diemen's Land - Its Rise, Progress and Present State with Advice to Emigrants" states with respect to the thylacine's gait: "It has some of the peculiarities of the kangaroo, for it proceeds by bounds".

Beaumaris Zoo - circa 1913
Male thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (SB) with keeper Charlie Newman, circa 1913.

    The Victorian newspaper "The Morwell Advertiser", of the 23rd June 1916 (p. 2), makes the following comment on the thylacine's gait: "Progress either at a trot or by long bounds".

    The use of the word "bound" should not be taken to imply that the thylacine can hop like a kangaroo in pursuit of its prey.  Guiler (1985) notes: "The work of Cunningham (1882) did not show any unusual features of the hind limb musculature, nervous system, or osteology which would allow the thylacine to indulge in bipedal frolics".  Guiler concludes: "The legend may have arisen because the thylacine has been seen to raise itself on its hind legs in tall grasses for a few moments to have a look around, and dogs do this under similar conditions".  That said; the Sydney Morning Herald of the 11th October 1952 (p. 8) notes the following observation: "When the Tasmanian wolf is hard pressed, he does not spring over an obstacle forefeet first.  He hops over, landing on his hind legs".  If this observation is correct, it appears that some bipedal elements exist in the thylacine's gait.  The general use of the word "bound" however, in the context of historical descriptions, is indicative of a bounce or spring to the thylacine's gait rather than prolonged periods of bipedalism.


    From historical accounts, it appears that female thylacines are far more agile than their male counterparts.  It was West (1852) who provided us with the first account of this phenomenon "...females are smaller and more agile..." and Gunn (1850) made the following comment about a newly-caught female thylacine "...when I sent a trustworthy person up for her, he assured me that she was excessively agile - springing from the floor to the top of the walls, 6 to 8 feet (1.82 - 2.44m), and from joist to joist near the roof with the activity of a cat...".

thylacine - US National Zoo
A thylacine at the US National Zoological Park, Washington, DC.  This is probably the young male purchased by the zoo in 1904 from Dr. F. W. Goding of Newcastle, NSW.  Courtesy: AMNH.

    The life span of a thylacine in the wild is unknown, but has been estimated as being between five and seven years.  In captivity, it could exceed eight years.  Guiler (1985) quotes a life span of 12-14 years for wild thylacines, but this estimation was based on the misconception that one of the 1924 Mullins litter was the last known captive specimen that died at the Beaumaris Zoo (Hobart) in 1936.  This has now been proven to be incorrect.

    John Edwards (1996) produced a comprehensive historical summary of the thylacines that were exhibited at the London Zoo which detailed their length of time in captivity.  Edwards states: "Marsupials are not generally long lived animals and very few thylacines seem to live longer than 8 years".  Two examples of longevity in captivity cited by Edwards are worthy of note:

    "London Zoo acquired a female thylacine from W. L. Crowther of Launceston in 1884.  The female lived from 14th November 1884 to 2nd April 1893, a period of 8 years and 131 days (8y 4m 20d) which is the record for any thylacine at the London Zoo".

    "A male thylacine holds the record for the greatest longevity in captivity outside of Australia. The animal was purchased originally by the Zoological Society in London from a Mr. Martin in Tasmania and was on display at the London Zoo from 9th April 1856 until 7th June 1864 when it was sold to the Berlin Zoo.  It died in Berlin on the 14th November 1864".  A total period in captivity of 8 years, 7 months, and 6 days.

Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - June 1928
A June 1928 photo taken at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD).  This image is often incorrectly cited as being of the last known captive thylacine, "Benjamin".

    It must be stressed that these time frames are captive periods, and not life spans, as the age of each thylacine at the point of capture is unknown.

    Edwards also states: "It is worth pointing out that thylacines were very susceptible to shock and the effects of stress and consequently many did not survive in captivity for long.  The process of capture itself and the long sea voyage from Tasmania took its toll on captive stock.  Change of temperature, diet, and disease probably added to this toll".

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