(page 13)

Captive behaviour:
    Captive behaviour, by virtue of the process of confinement, is "stressed" behaviour.  Such behaviour is termed "stereotypical behaviour" by zoologists, and would not normally be evident in the wild population.  Stereotypical behaviors are thought to be caused by artificial environments that do not allow animals to satisfy their normal behavioral needs.  Examples of stereotypical behaviour would be pacing of the enclosure and the mouthing of cage bars.

    Captive thylacines were typically held in small, barren, concrete-floored enclosures, with an adjoining night den.  Being semi-nocturnal in habit, day display would have been unnatural, yet in public zoos they were barred from entry to their dens so as to be permanently on view.

London Zoo - 1914
A thylacine at the London Zoo, 1914.  Other photos of this individual: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Courtesy: Zoological Society of London.
    Observations on captive thylacines therefore have to be looked upon with these important considerations in mind.  The behaviour patterns are unlikely to have mirrored those of wild populations.

   Ludwig Heck (1912), the Director of the Berlin Zoo, made the following observations on the zoo's captive thylacines: 

    "They act quite familiar coming restlessly up to the cage bars and sniffing around if one stands on this side of the barrier directly in front of the cage.  Fired by eternal greed, they constantly demand food when they are not sleeping.... They keep trying to chew through the bars.  They are hard to arouse from their sleep on their soft straw bed in the dim night cage, but are not unpleasant if you do awaken them... otherwise they pace for hours in the cage without paying much attention to the outside world, or lie quietly, sleeping apathetically".

    Both the chewing of the cage bars and constant pacing are typical stereotypical behaviours.  The damage to the canine teeth from mouthing of the cage bars can be seen on the skulls of two of Berlin Zoo's thylacines:

thylacine specimen skull ZMB 13195
Thylacine specimen skull ZMB 13195.
thylacine specimen skull ZMB 47902
Thylacine specimen skull ZMB 47902.
Courtesy: Museum für Naturkunde (Humboldt University).
Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database 5th Revision 2013.
    Graham Renshaw (1938) made some observations on a thylacine he saw in captivity at the London Zoo in his article "The Thylacine".  Renshaw states:

    "A thylacine studied by the writer was active during the early part of the day, running to and fro in its exercise yard, the head held low like a hound's on scent.  The beast often paused abruptly, as if to reconnoitre, standing motionless with head raised; it took little notice of the attendant entering the yard, as if half blinded by the sun.  When the light became powerful it often retreated to the inner den, when it curled itself up like a dog; but it would also recline to bask in the sun, a strange habit for a semi-nocturnal animal.  In sleep it lay on one side fully extended; the upper most ear remaining erect confirmed the original description by Harris.  It never uttered any sound, though the keeper said it would hiss or grunt if disturbed".

    An account (Huet 1887) of the first thylacines to be displayed in Paris is given in the 1887 edition of "Le Naturaliste Revue illustrée des Sciences Naturelles". In translation it states:

    "For the first time at the menagerie of the Natural Museum of Paris, a pair of living thylacines are on display.  They are of great interest, not only to those who are curious, but to scientists because of their rarity, and their habits have never been studied in captivity".

    A degree of scientific naivety is apparent in the assumption that captive thylacines would be suitable candidates for the study of natural behaviour.  The text continues:

London Zoo - 1912
A thylacine at the London Zoo, 1912.  Thylacines often use this upright stance to get a better view of their surroundings.
    "These animals are vey cunning and endowed with a keen sense of smell.  The hind legs are slender and without strength so that when walking, it seems they are lame.  The character is shy and timid, and when they are given live prey, a guinea pig for example, it is with the utmost care that they approach it.  They do not throw it with the ferocity of their congeners, Dasyures, and do not kill these small rodents; rather they harass them with little dabs of paws and teeth.  The thylacines have been at the menagerie for almost a year and have never shown any aggression towards the keeper who cares for them, quite the contrary; they are quiet around him seeking instead to play.  We have never heard any sound or voices, they are excited after their prey or by the presence of a dog, which seems to put them in good humour, jumping, coming and going in their cage, without grumbling or pretending to attack.  It is said that these animals are nocturnal and yet we see them come and go all day, basking in the sun, always awake, not suffering from the light".

    Annis Hardcastle Knight noted the following comments after her visit to the National Zoo in Washington DC in 1903 to see the thylacine mother and her pups

    "The little ones tried to engage her in their sport by jumping upon her back and rolling down her sides.  At first the little ones travelled around in their mother's pouch sometimes with their heads stuck out, as if they were curiously investigating the country as they went along.  They entered it also frequently when feeding and at such times there was always a scramble for first place".


    Thylacines are extremely shy animals and have rarely shown any signs of aggression towards humans.  The Mercury newspaper of the 16th September 1886 (p. 2), states:

    "It is quite time some other name was commonly adopted for the comparatively harmless marsupial generally spoken of as the tiger.  No doubt the animal is destructive amongst sheep, and for that reason it is desirable that sheep owners should combine to destroy it, and may reasonably ask for assistance from the Treasury and for legislation, but its power of mischief extends no further.  It is not the ferocious brute the name implies; and under no circumstances would it attack even a child".

    Further, the Mercury newspaper of the 24th June 1886 (p. 4), notes:

    "There are some plants and animals peculiar to the colony.  One animal of marked interest is the native tiger (Thylacinus), which is the largest known flesh eating marsupial.  In appearance it is between the wolf and the greyhound.  It is of a tawny colour, with black stripes down the ribs hence its common appellation of tiger.  It is a sheep killer, but has never been known to attack man".

    George William Evans (1822), formerly Surveyor General of Tasmania, wrote:

    "It is cowardly, and by no means formidable to man; indeed, unless when taken by surprise, it invariably flees from his approach".

    Michael Sharland, in an article entitled "TASMANIAN TIGER: Marsupial's Stand", in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 2nd Feb 1937 (p. 13), states: "Stories are sometimes told of the ferocity of the Tasmanian tiger when cornered, but their authenticity is open to question. I have yet to meet the person who has been attacked or has seen someone else attacked".  In his regular "Peregrine" column in the Mercury newspaper of the 25th March 1939 (p. 5), he notes: "It is a timid animal and will not attack man unless cornered".

    In an interview with Elias Churchill (the captor of the last known captive thylacine) published in the People of the 3rd April 1957 (pp. 25-26), Michael Sharland states:

    "Churchill says he was never afraid that he might be attacked by tigers.  He knows of no case of a tiger attacking a human or even a dog.  Normally, he says they are shy and nervous, and avoid contact with people.  If a tiger happened to be inhabiting the area a trapper had selected for snaring or for making a camp the tiger would be 'five miles away' by evening, and would keep away for a week or two until it became more confident, when it might return to inspect the snare line, sometimes to its own undoing".

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