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
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".
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
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.
Photograph taken by
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
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
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
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,
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".