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.
thylacine at the London Zoo, 1914. Other photos of this individual:
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.
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,
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
Thylacine specimen skull
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
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
thylacine at the London Zoo, 1912. Thylacines often use this upright
stance to get a better view of their surroundings.
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
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),
"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:
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".