(page 12)


    No audio recordings of thylacine vocalisation are known to exist, so our limited knowledge of this subject is based on first-hand historical accounts of bushmen, zoo staff, and a small number of naturalists.  From their recollections, thylacine vocalisation appears to serve both as a structured warning to any potential aggressor, as well as a means of social interaction between family members.

    Dr. Eric Guiler (1958), Tasmania's leading authority on the thylacine, stated in the Australian Museum Magazine: "When hunting thylacines make a coughing, barking noise, a low growl when irritated (probably a warning) and a whining noise like that of a puppy.  The latter sound is perhaps a method of communication between individuals".

    Ronald Campbell Gunn, in a letter to the Zoological Society dated 14th May 1850, notes when referring to a male thylacine on route to London Zoo: "The male thylacine made a hissing sound as any one passed his cage".

   John Gould (1804-1881), the famous naturalist and ornithological illustrator, made the following comment on the vocalisation of a thylacine at the London Zoo in his book "The Mammals of Australia" (Gould 1863):

    "In confinement it is excessively shy, and on being observed dashes and leaps about its cage in the most violent manner, uttering a short guttural cry resembling a bark, but whether this sound is also emitted in a state of nature, has not been observed".

    The 1913 guide to the London Zoo (p. 93), states that the thylacine has a "wheezing cry". 

    J. West (1852), in his account of thylacine hunting behaviour, notes that they occasionally utter "a low smothered bark".

    The Circular Head Chronicle of the 6th October 1937 (p. 3) states that the thylacine has a "sharp bark like a pup of 7 or 8 weeks old".

John Gould, circa 1860
John Gould, circa 1860.  Source: University of Sydney Library.
    William George Fitzgerald (1876-1965), a prospector, made the following comments on the vocal abilities of the thylacine (Fitzgerald 2011):

    "The tiger's growl is a soft low whistle......When hunting, the tiger gives an occasional yelp similar to that of the Australian Dingo on the chase, but that is about their only similarity.  When calling its mate, the tiger gives a blood curdling squeal, similar to the loud neighing of a horse".

    The Australian naturalist Michael Sharland (1971) notes in his book "A Pocketful of Nature" the recollections of a Mr. W. J. Cotton, in which he states: "Tiger puppies were very vocal, snarling and yapping very much like dog pups"

   Alison Reid, in the Mercury of the 24th October 1968 states:

    "I read with interest 'Peregrine's remarks on the Tasmanian Tiger.  Contrary to his observation that the animal was voiceless I can assure those interested that it was not without a voice.

    The Tiger has a deep throated bark.  This is repeated four or five times in quick succession.  It seems to be only employed when the animal is agitated and then only at night.  It could be also described as being like a deep short cough.

    The only time we heard it at the zoo was when the animals had been left shut out from their sleeping quarters, and my father or I would go down and let them in.  They would be in a sort of panic at not being able to get in and uttering this 'coughing bark' as they ran round. once the door was opened they became quite calm again.

    'Peregrine' says that bushmen have argued about this matter.  So, as I have both seen and heard them barking, I would be quite pleased to speak with anyone who thinks that they may have heard one lately.  ALISON REID.  New Town".

   The naturalist Graham Renshaw made a number of observations on a thylacine he had seen in captivity at the London Zoo in his article "The Thylacine", published in the Journal of the Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire.  With respect to its vocal ability, Renshaw (1938) states: "It never uttered any sound, though the keeper said it would hiss or grunt if disturbed".

    Albert Le Souëf (1926) discussed the vocalisation of Australian marsupials in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, arguing that terrestrial marsupial carnivores were somewhat inferior to their placental counterparts, and that this inferiority was reflected in their vocalisation.  He stated that: "The voice of all the carnivorous marsupials was very primitive in character" and with specific reference to the thylacine, he states: "The Marsupial Wolf or Thylacine can only express itself by a coughing sound".  The editor of the Proceedings noted at the foot of the page: "This is not our experience here (London Zoo); the thylacine utters a prolonged and very loud, undulating cry".

    It is doubtful that anyone who has heard the cry of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) could ever accuse the terrestrial marsupial carnivores of being restricted in their vocalisations.

    The thylacine has at least six distinct vocalisations.  The Tasmanian devil by comparison, has a more expansive repertoire of sounds, with at least eleven types of vocalisation.

    The following table illustrates the types of thylacine vocalisation, together with their appropriate degree of threat and a brief explanation as to possible meaning.

Tasmanian devil sounds.
Coughing bark
(ah ah ah ah)
Non-threatening Communicative
(social interaction with respect to identification and hunting)
(forced aspiration)
Non-threatening Communicative
(social contact with respect to family member and scent trailing)
(mouth closed)
Low to moderate-grade threat Warning (moderate)
Undulating cry
(moderate to high-grade threat depending upon intensity)
Possibly territorial (defensive)
(mouth open)
Threatening Warning (high-level)
Growl Threatening Surprise warning or precursor to aggression
Thylacine vocalisation, threat level, and perceived meaning.  Source: Thylacine Museum.
    Most of the known thylacine vocalisations are those that were observed in captive animals, with the notable exception of the "snuffle", or forced aspiration.  This in itself is not surprising, as this sound is employed during hunting, when the thylacine is following a scent trail.

    The Daily Telegraph of the 10th September 1927 (p. 8) in an article entitled "Sounds of Animals", states:

    "Marsupials, with the exception of the thylacine or Tasmanian 'wolf',' and the Tasmanian 'devil,' have the reputation of being silent creatures, and some Australian naturalists have even refused loud voices to these two notorious cases.  But the 'wolf' at any time utters a long howl, rising and falling in an excessively wild and melancholy fashion, but quite unlike the howl of dogs or wolves...  ...The herbivorous marsupials are usually silent, and kangaroos, even when they are fighting or making love, do not give voice.  But a kangaroo, when frightened, as, for instance, when it is being held to be given an anesthetic, howls as loudly and much in the same fashion as the thylacine - an interesting example of the clues to affinity which might be got from a comparative study of the voice".

    When David Fleay was filming the last captive thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD), it is on record that the animal was hissing with its mouth wide open prior to Fleay receiving a bite to his buttock.  This is a good example of a high-level threat warning being ignored, ultimately at a cost to Dr. Fleay's dignity.

comparative threat warnings of the thylacine, Tasmanian devil and quoll
Comparative threat warnings of the thylacine, Tasmanian devil and quoll.  Note: In all cases, the mouth is opened wide, displaying the teeth to the opposition; ears are laid back, and the eyes are narrowed.

    Annis Hardcastle Knight (1903), on a visit to see the thylacine mother and pups thylacine mother and pups at the US National Zoo (Washington, DC) in 1903, noted: 

    "The call is a peculiar coughing sound, which, until recognised as a note of affection, gave the keepers grave concern regarding the condition of her lungs.  The sound was easily understood when it was observed that the mother in giving vent to it, was immediately answered by her cubs.  Often when sleeping she will rouse for a moment, and after making this peculiar cry, listen expectantly until she hears the diminutive counterpart, whereupon she will let fall her head and rest content".

    From what little we can deduce from historical accounts, it appears that thylacine vocalizations, although limited to around five sounds, are used frequently in social interactions, particularly hunting and maternal care.

    The Queenslander newspaper of the 25th February 1932 (p. 43) notes:

    "The Tasmanian wolf does not bark like an ordinary dog or dingo, but gives a succession of short wheezing coughs".

    The Cairns Post of the 19th May 1938 (p. 11) notes: 

    "This animal makes a husky noise, and repeatedly utters a coughing bark when excited or being chased".

    The West Australian of the 24th December 1948 (p. 15) notes: 

    "The cry is a distinctly marsupial one, but with a difference of its own, being a flat husky cough or croak rapidly repeated".

    The Advertiser (Adelaide) of the 21st September 1929 (p. 21) notes:

    "It has a kind of wheezy bark, the breath being drawn in".

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