(page 3)

Diet (continued):

    Rare though it might have been, a story entitled "A Hungry Tiger", published in the Examiner newspaper of the 4th May 1909 (p. 5), records the return of a thylacine to a carcass:

    "That animal had left traces of its presence in a few slaughtered and half eaten sheep.  Having killed one on Mr. Smith's farm on the night of April 29, he returned on the next day to the carcase".

    It is reasonable to presume that juveniles and older animals are far more likely to scavenge than healthy adults.  When food is abundant, the feeding behaviour changes and becomes wasteful, with the thylacine only consuming select parts of its prey, and often killing more prey than it requires.

    The Chronicle newspaper of 24th November 1900 (p. 47) notes a rare addition to the thylacine's diet - a feast of whale blubber: "...the striped 'tigers' stood at a distance, or approached very stealthily for a share of the blubber".

    With the colonisation of Tasmania in 1803, and the subsequent introduction of sheep in 1820, the thylacine quickly adapted its skills to hunting these easy to catch prey.  The Adelaide newspaper "Border Watch" of the 30th September 1871 (p. 4) notes:

    "A native tiger was lately captured at Blessington, Tasmania, measuring from the point of the nose to the tip of the tail six feet three inches.  When first startled he was in the act of eating a sheep".

Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - 1933
This image is from a short film taken of a thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD) in 1933.  Opened in 1895 by Mary G. Roberts, the zoo was originally situated at her private residence in Sandy Bay (Hobart, Tasmania).  The zoo was turned over to the Hobart City Council upon Mrs. Roberts's death in 1921, and relocated to the Queen's Domain.
    Most large carnivores direct their attack towards the neck of the prey, resulting in death by suffocation, blood loss, or severance of the spine.  Historical reports from farmers and trappers note that the thylacine characteristically tore open the rib cage of its live prey and then consumed the lungs, heart, liver, and on occasion some meat if they were sufficiently hungry.  With sheep, the ribs of mature ewes were often too strong to break and the animal was left to die with a patch of flesh ripped away from the foreflank.  The nasal area of the sheep is very vascular, and in some kills this was the only area of the carcass that appeared to have been devoured.  Thylacines were known to bite the nasal area when attempting to kill a sheep.  Damage to the nasal tissues can result in substantial blood loss leading to rapid debilitation of the prey and expedite an easier kill.

    Predation by thylacines on sheep has recently been questioned with the publication of a paper in the Journal of Zoology entitled "Skull mechanics and implications for feeding behaviour in a large marsupial carnivore guild: the thylacine, Tasmanian devil and spotted-tailed quoll".  The authors (Attard et al. 2011) cast doubt on the thylacine's ability to kill large prey, including sheep, due to an inherent structural weakness of the jaw.

    Three dimensional finite element analysis (FEA) and geometric morphometrics were used in the study to assess various aspects of biomechanical performance in the skull of the thylacine relative to two marsupial carnivores with known diets (Sarcophilus harrisii and Dasyurus maculatus).  FEA consists of a computer model(s), in this instance of the three marsupial skulls; that were stressed and analyzed for specific results.

Attard's findings infer that the thylacine was vulnerable to extinction by virtue of its diet, in that it was poorly adapted to take relatively large prey compared with other marsupials.

    One must stress the need for caution in accepting the results of a retrospective study when those results conflict so dramatically with historical fact.  The skull used in Attard's study was that of a thylacine that died at Moore Park Zoo in Sydney.  This thylacine was fed solely on horsemeat, restricted in its activities through confinement, and relatively aged; being at least 6 years old at its death.  These factors do not appear to have been taken into consideration in the study.

thylacine - Beaumaris Zoo (SB)
Photograph taken by naturalist Harry Burrell at Beaumaris Zoo (SB) of a thylacine eating a chicken.  It must be noted that predation on poultry by wild thylacines was a rare occurrence.  The photo shown above is the cropped version which appeared in a 1921 issue of Australian Museum Magazine, as well as various other publications.  Compare it with the original.
    If Attard's hypothesis is correct, and the thylacine's jaw is structurally weak, how can we reconcile her findings with the historical fact that thylacines did kill sheep?

    Attard states: "Given its large body mass and carnivorous diet, any limitations in the capacity of T. cynocephalus to kill large bodied species may have made them particularly vulnerable unless small prey was available in high abundance".

    The thylacine however, is not a specialist feeder and has a broad range of native prey species that make up its natural diet.  Those that have been recorded in the literature include: [mammals] Forester or Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), Bennett's or Red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), Rufous wallaby or Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), Tasmanian bettong (Bettongia gaimardi), Common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula fuliginosus), Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus), Southern brown bandicoot (Isodon obesulus), Eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii), Dusky Antechinus (Antechinus swainsonii), Water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster), and a wide variety of birds.

Female thylacine with prey (Tasmanian pademelon - Thylogale billardierii) animation 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.

    The Queenslander newspaper of the 25th February 1932 (p. 43) notes: "...venturing forth only towards evening to hunt kangaroos, wallabies, rats, and bandicoots".  The Queenslander newspaper of the 15th November 1934 (p. 40) notes: "...its prey being usually kangaroos and wallabies".  The Cairns Post of the 19th May 1938 (p. 11) notes: "Its natural food is wallabies, as well as small animals and ground frequenting birds".

    William George Fitzgerald (1876-1965), a prospector, made the following comments on the thylacine's natural diet (Fitzgerald 2011):

    "The tiger depends on the chase for its food, mostly kangaroo and wallabies, or perchance a wombat, opossum, porcupine (echidna) or other animal caught napping, but upon persistence rather than speed.  Once on the scent for its quarry, the only escape for a kangaroo or wallaby is by ruse".

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