(page 14)

Temperament (continued):

    Attacks by thylacines on humans were extremely rare, and on the few occasions they did occur, the incident was often exaggerated.  Thylacines, according to these reports, had a particular fondness for defenceless maidens and young children; typical of the "big bad wolf" stories of old.

    The Examiner newspaper of the 8th April 1902 (p. 7) reports on an attack by an aged thylacine on a Miss Priscilla Murray:

    "Attacked by a Tiger or Hyena - Recently Miss Priscilla Murray, of Springfield, had an unpleasant adventure.  It appears (writes our correspondent) that the young woman was on a selection owned by her mother, and was sitting on a bench outside the dairy washing her hands when something seized her by the arm.  Believing it was a big kangaroo dog which is usually on the selection, she simply jerked her arm back, thinking to throw it off.  As this did not prove effectual she looked
around, and to her horror found it was nothing less than an old and almost toothless man tiger. Calling a little boy who was near the dairy she asked him to let the dog loose, but the poor lad was too frightened, and ran away.  Finding that she had no one to depend upon but herself, Miss Murray thrust one thumb into the half open mouth of the hyena, and pressed the windpipe, and struggling to her feet she managed to throw the animal off.  On picking up a stick to strike him he sneaked off into the scrub, half ,
London Zoo - August 1904
A female thylacine at the London Zoo, August 1904.  Another photo of this individual is shown here.
falling over the small logs in his course.  From a description of the animal given by two young men who saw it a few days previous to Miss Murray's adventure, it is evident the hyena is a very feeble old fellow, and almost in the last stage of starvation.  Miss Murray's sleeve was torn off, and the arm lacerated in two places, necessitating medical attendance.  On enquiry on Monday our correspondent learnt that the wounds were not doing so well, and were causing some anxiety".
    Another attack is reported in the Mercury newspaper of the 4th August 1882 (p. 2):

    "A man named Littlejohn was attacked at Patterson by a native tiger.  The animal, which was almost as large as a retriever dog, flew at his throat.  His own dog seized the tiger by the haunches, and he afterwards succeeded in despatching the brute".

    The Australian newspaper of the 1st May 1830 (p. 2) recalls another incident:

    "A curious circumstance happened at Mr. Blackworth's, Jerusalem, the other day.  A native tiger, as it is called, boldly entered his cottage, where his family was assembled, and seized one of the little children by the hair, but fortunately missed its bite.  Mr. Blinkworth who was confined to the house with a lame hand, alertly seized the animal by the tail and dashing it on the ground, speedily killed it".

    The Wellington Times & Agricultural & Mining Gazette of the 19th May 1892 (p. 2) reports:

    "NATIVE TIGER. - T. Whitton, of Ringwood, E. B. and M. B. Railway, writes under Monday's date as follows: ' The following may be of interest to many of your readers: - I have often heard it said that a native tiger will run away from a man and not show fight, but I can assure you that was not the case with one I caught in a snare on Friday last.  Several tigers have been in the habit of coming about our camp and I determined to set some snares in the hope of catching some of the prowlers, and was successful.  About 4 a.m. on Friday I was awakened by the dogs barking.  Thinking of the tigers I at once jumped out of bed, and seeing that a tiger was trapped I roused all hands to have a hand in killing it.  When we approached to within a few yards of him he made a bound at us and
Beaumaris Zoo (SB) - circa 1916
Juvenile thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (SB), circa 1916.  The tail of another thylacine can be seen exiting the frame at the far left.  Photographer unknown.  Source: Moeller archives.
broke the snare.  As luck would have it a kangaroo dog belonging to C. Randall was close handy and at once seized the tiger by the throat, while a little dog got hold of him by one of the hind legs.  There was another kangaroo dog standing by but when matters were getting very warm for the other dogs he "scooted" home.  The tiger got into the bush with both the dogs hanging on to him but they kept their hold and succeeded in driving the tiger out on to the road.  At this stage I rushed up and got hold of the tiger's tail while Ted Powell came up with a stick to kill him,
but the animal made a jump at Ted who dropped his stick and scrambled up a small blackwood tree with remarkable agility, and there he remained until the tiger was killed by G. and C. Randall, assisted by myself.  Ted was considerably scared and said he did not care about coming down the tree to face a man-eater.  The tiger measured 4ft. 11in. in length 23in. in height at the shoulder, and 15½ in. round the neck.  The head was sent to Mr. R. Ryan, of Burnie, for exhibition.  The tiger's head was inspected by a large number of persons up to yesterday, many of whom remarked that they had never seen larger from a native animal; but yesterday the head had to be thrown away as it was manifesting signs of decay".

    In an article entitled "Fight with a Tasmanian Tiger", published in the Adelaide Observer of the 22nd July 1882 (p. 5), it states:

    "A gentleman from Kentishbury has received a letter from Waratah,  in which the writer says that whilst Messrs. Hall Brothers and Exel were at work on the Bischoff and Corina track, a large hyena, either from hunger or ferocity, attacked the party, and a very exciting fight took place, those engaged in the defence only having sticks to keep the animal off.  After two or three attempts by the hyena to seize hold of one of the Messrs. Hall, that gentleman struck the brute a severe blow on the nose, which bled profusely.  The animal then made off into the scrub, but after a time crept back again to the attack, and the battle was renewed fiercely, but this time the hyena was dispatched, and, on measurement, his length was found to be five feet, exclusive of tail".

    The Launceston based newspaper "The Cornwall Chronicle" of the 21st February 1872 (p. 2), notes the following seafarer's yarn:

    "The master of the schooner Emu, from the Pieman, reports that on his arrival there about six weeks ago, his cook, who had gone on shore, was chased by a native tiger, and only escaped by taking to the water".

Beaumaris Zoo (SB) - circa 1920s
Thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD), circa 1920s.  Photographer unknown.

    A story from the Daily Telegraph of the 2nd August 1899 (p. 8) shows that the thylacine is in fact placid enough to hand feed:

    "The marsupial wolf, commonly known as tiger, has recently been making his unsightly presence felt in the settlement of Green Point and its vicinity.  About a week since Mrs Arnold, a resident of that favoured locality, observed near her house what she supposed to be a starving stray dog of most singular shape and colour.  The good woman charitably fed the animal on some kangaroo meat rather too gamey for domestic use, and upon her son returning home found that she had been entertaining a tiger-wolf unawares".

    Aggressive encounters between thylacines are rare, but did occasionally occur.  Dr. Stephen Sleightholme (pers. comm. 3rd April 2012), Project Director to the International Thylacine Specimen Database, made the following observation on skins that he examined:

    "Marked scarification of skins is often an indication of territoriality in male animals.  This has not been evident on any of the male thylacine skins I have inspected for the purpose of this work.  The absence of scarification may be indicative of a low level of direct aggression between males when staking their claim to a territorial area".

    Perhaps the best documented example of aggression between thylacines is that between a male and female at the US National Zoo (Washington, DC).  On the 5th July 1905, the zoo received a young male thylacine from Dr. F. W. Goding.  After just a few weeks, the male was introduced to the zoo's existing female, and they appeared to be getting on well.  As an unrelated pair, one can only assume that the zoo was hoping for a successful pairing that might have resulted in young.  Initially, they were kept separated at feeding times and during the night to save any potential confrontation, but as the curator W. H. Blackburne noted in the "Daily Report of Animal Department" dated October 7th 1905, the male attacked the female on the morning of the 6th October, inflicting damage to her ear and face.

Daily Report of Animal Department, USNZP - Oct 7 1905
Courtesy: Smithsonian Institution Archives.  Record Unit 74 Box 256 Folder 15.

    In a weekly column entitled "Echoes of the Streets" published in the Launceston Examiner of the 11th July 1889 (p. 4), the author Tommy Trot makes mention of a fight between two male thylacines at the City Park Zoo in Launceston that resulted in the death of one of the animals:

    "An instance of the sagacity of a member of the brute creation occurred very recently in a favourite haunt of mine, the City Park.  The hero of the anecdote is the lean looking native tiger, occupying one of the lower cages in the zoological collection.  His late mate also played a very prominent part in the story.  It appears that neither of the pair was satisfied with the fare provided for them by the Curator, and hungered for live meat.  After discussion a happy notion struck one of them, which he at once put into effect with satisfactory results, as it cured both their cravings for a time.  He sharpened his front teeth on a tin dish and ate the other, or at least a considerable portion of him, before the Curator knew anything about it.  If that was not a specimen of really human instinct I don't know what is.  A singular feature in it is that, like human beings who prey on each other, the brute doesn't look any the more contented for his fratricidal meal".

    This unfortunate incident is the only instance of cannibalism ever recorded for the species, and it should be noted that this was undoubtedly aberrant behaviour which resulted from being kept under unnaturally confined living conditions.

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