|Diet in Captivity:
Thylacines in captivity
were inexpensive to maintain, requiring about 3lbs (1.4kg) of meat per
day (Minutes of the Reserves Committee Hobart Zoo, 17th March 1930).
Their diet ranged from wallaby, rabbit, mutton, horse meat, deer, and occasionally,
according to the keepers at London Zoo, the odd wild pigeon. The
first thylacines that were exhibited at the Ménagerie du Jardin
des Plantes in Paris were fed on live prey; in this instance, guinea pig.
The 1887 edition of "Le Naturaliste Revue illustrée des Sciences
Naturelles" states: "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".
Two short sequences
of motion picture film exist that were taken at the London Zoo which demonstrate
a thylacine feeding. The first
film shows a thylacine stripping meat from a bone, and the second,
a thylacine eating a rabbit.
still of a thylacine stripping meat from a bone at the London Zoo.
Zoological Society of London.
Film still of a thylacine
feeding on a rabbit at the London Zoo.
Courtesy: Zoological Society
The thylacine is best
described as being crepuscular
i.e., it is active and hunts primarily during twilight, or at dawn and
dusk. The Courier newspaper of the 16th June 1858 (p. 2) notes:
"Its movements are
nocturnal though it has occasionally been seen abroad during the day in
thick cloudy weather, and probably on occasions when it has been pressed
The Examiner newspaper
of the 14th June 1905 (p. 3), records a daytime kill:
"One shepherd, who
is looked upon as a very trustworthy man by his employer, captured three
on his runs within a short time, the last capture being an extraordinary
large female, surprised killing a sheep in the day time".
From historical accounts,
it appears that various hunting strategies are employed by the thylacine.
The choice of technique is dependent upon the nature of the prey being
hunted, and whether the thylacine is hunting alone, or as a member of a
larger family unit. There are no records of thylacines hunting in
packs, as is the case with wolves, but they do hunt in family units.
Records for thylacines hunting in adult pairs far outweigh the number of
reports of hunting being restricted to a single adult plus young.
It appears therefore, that adults with pups hunt collectively as a family
states: "The tendency for one or two members of a small family group
of hunting thylacines to first expose themselves to communally grouped
prey and start them running, before singling out, chasing and bringing
down a single item of prey, has been noted by a number of observers, with
respect to predation on domestic stock".
proceeds to quote Sharland (1971) and the
recollections of a Mr. Dunbabin, whose father caught thylacines on the
sheep runs of his property Marchwiel:
"They would most
likely start sheep running from a hill, and, singling one animal out in
particular, chase it to the lower ground and kill it".
Several authors make
mention of the thylacine hunting as a family unit:
thylacine at the London Zoo. This male had a healed, broken foreleg
(note swelling). Other photos of this individual:
Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London.
states: "Hunting by night, their exquisite sense of smell enables them
to steal cautiously upon these defenceless animals, in the thick covers
of the low grassy flats and scrubs, or to run them down in the more open
hill and forest land. They are not very fleet, but follow the track
with untiring perseverance occasionally uttering a low smothered bark.
They never hunt in packs, but a male and female, or a female with two or
three half grown pups, have occasionally been seen together in pursuit
| Meredith (1852)
states: "The common pace of the tiger is a measured, steady canter,
and from various anecdotes I have heard, it appears that they pursue the
object of their chase wholly by scent, and win (literally) "in the long
run" by their endurance. On one occasion Mr. Adam Amos, of Swan Port,
had made his way, by a new track, to the top of the encompassing tier of
mountains which separate the Swan Port district from the interior; after
he had travelled for some time along the
|ridge of the numerous steep
"saddles", as they are termed, among the hills, the ground became rocky
so that the fat cattle he was driving could not proceed any further, and
he partly encamped for the night. The next morning, about daybreak,
they prepared to return, and were getting breakfast, when a brush kangaroo
came along the ridge where they were, and hopped passed, within a few yards
of their fire. In ten minutes after this a female tiger came cantering
along in the same line, with her
thylacine family group of three females at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD), 1928.
|nose close to the ground, scenting
out the kangaroo, and passed around the fire exactly in the same track,
not noticing the cattle-party, who were observing the chase with curiosity.
About twenty minutes now elapsed, when two young tiger-whelps appeared,
holding the same course, and passing round the fire, went on after their
mother, who, with her steady pace, would finally run down the more swift
but less enduring kangaroo, and the cubs, following on her track, if not
actually "in at the death", were no doubt in excellent time for dinner".
Stevenson (1941) states:
natural food supply of the tiger is the kangaroo and wallaby, chiefly in
the tea tree scrubs, there 2 or 3 will get together, one will crouch down
beside a track, and the others will hunt the wallaby, and when one comes
along the (waiting) tiger will pounce on it".
It appears that as soon
as young thylacines are old enough, they too actively participate in the
hunt as part of a cohesive family unit. The unique stripe pattern
would enable expeditious identification of individual family members, and
markings would assist in ascertaining the direction of their
gaze; vital attributes in the cooperative hunt.