The thylacine, being
taller than the grasses within which it hunts, probably relies more heavily
on sight and sound to locate its prey. Moeller (1970)
observed that the reduced size of the olfactory lobes suggests that sight,
more than scent, is more important in the pursuit of prey. Additionally,
of the thylacine brain is far more heavily ridged than that
of its cousin the Tasmanian devil, and this is generally believed to be
indicative of a greater level of intelligence; an essential requirement
in cooperative hunting.
An article entitled
Native Tiger", published in the Mercury of the 19th September 1882
(p. 3), comments on the hunting technique of the thylacine:
"In the course of
many weeks, we had ample opportunities to Iearn the habits of the native
tiger in this respect, and we observed that it hunts animals with the pertinacity
of a pack of wolves on the steppes of frozen Russia. This native
tiger is not swift, and is very awkward in turning, but it follows the
trail by its never-erring scent, and in the long run is sure of its prey".
thylacine following prey scent trail 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:
"They prefer not
to indulge in a straight-out chase, but kill their prey by tracking it
down and then suddenly springing out upon it, tearing it to pieces in a
few seconds. Unless particularly hungry, they will eat nothing but
the liver and kidneys".
The Queenslander newspaper
of the 15th November 1934 (p. 40) notes:
"It hunts by night,
singly or in pairs. The game is not chased at breakneck speed in
the manner of dogs; the pursuer merely trots along the scent until its
victim is exhausted. Once the wolf takes up the chase of a kangaroo
or wallaby it will not be sidetracked by a fresh animal, but inexorably
follows the original to the end".
thylacine sitting in a rather dog-like stance. However, the legs
of the thylacine are not as proportionately long as those of dogs and other
canids; its limb proportions more closely resembling those of the Clouded
leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Historical
reports speak of the thylacine slowly but relentlessly pursuing its prey
over considerable distances, gradually wearing the prey animal down to
the point that it could be easily captured with a sudden rush. This
image is from a 1933
film taken at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD) of the last known captive
thylacine, popularly referred to as "Benjamin".
Courtesy: David Fleay Trustees.
| The Advertiser
(Adelaide) of the 17th November 1934 (p. 8) notes:
"It hunts not after
the manner of a greyhound, but with an unsteady trot, following its prey
until the latter is exhausted, and then rushing to secure its victim".
Crosbie Morrison, writing
in the Argus newspaper of the 12th January 1957 (p. 17), makes the following
comments on the hunting abilities of the thylacine:
"It does not lurk
and spring on its prey as the tiger
does, but rather picks up a trail and follows it with dogged perseverance.
Its staying power is phenomenal, and in persistence it has no equal in
the animal kingdom. It may startle a wallaby, which will dart away
and easily outdistance it, but once on the track, it holds it until the
exhausted wallaby, stopping for a rest, sees its enemy approaching and
is off again. Right through the night it will trot, until the wallaby
has not a hop left in it, when the thylacine can rush up to it with open
jaws and take it".
The Courier newspaper
of the 16th June 1858 (p. 2) notes:
"The pace of the
animal even when flying for his life is not so swift but that an ordinary
dog will soon overtake him. When on a hunting expedition
he beats the brake covers, his short ears are pricked sharp up - his head
is somewhat projected forward and he carries his long tail standing straight
out in a horizontal position - his step and gait at the same time being
slow and stealthy, like that of the cat tribe".
J. R. Kinghorn, Councillor
of the Zoological Society, writing in the Truth newspaper (Sydney) of the
27th November 1949 [p. 6] states:
"When hunting, the
thylacine commences trailing its prey at a rather lazy trot, but the pace
quickens as the hunt proceeds and eventually it pounces on its victim with
In an interview with
Michael Sharland published in the People of the 3rd April 1957 (pp.
25-26) Elias Churchill, the captor of the last known captive thylacine,
recalls his experience of a thylacine hunting a wallaby:
"We were sitting
quietly with the dogs having a spell. I saw a wallaby coming along
a track towards us. There was something wrong with it, for it seemed
to be just jumping and coming down in the same spot. It was obviously
exhausted. I thought one of the dogs was after it, but they were
all resting close by. It went into some scrub, and a couple of minutes
later a tiger appeared in the wallaby's tracks. The dogs jumped up
at once and made a hullabaloo, setting off after the tiger as it wheeled
away. They chased it into a bit of light scrub on the edge of a creek;
it must have gone through the water as we never got another sight of it.
I reckon we saved that wallaby's life".
Guiler & Godard
(1998), when referring to the hunting behaviour
of the thylacine, state: "All the old trappers were unanimous in saying
that the thylacine did not have enough speed to run down prey in a straight
It is often quoted that
thylacines are slow-paced when running or chasing their prey, but there
are a number of historical accounts that strongly contradict this view.
The Examiner newspaper of the 14th June 1905 (p. 3) recalls a shepherd's
encounter with a "fast" tiger:
at the London Zoo. Other photos of the individual shown in the foreground:
Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London.
"They tell me you
captured a very large tiger the other day:" "Yes; and it was a large
one, there is no question about it." "Tell me all about it:"
"Well, I was riding along on Punches (horse), when I noticed old
Sweep, a big black dog I have got, put up his bristles. He is a savage,
and would just as soon worry me, if I hit him, as not. I know there
was something wrong, and, looking about I got a glimpse of it 30 yards
off, streaking along at great bat. I put spurs in, and took
after it, sooling
old Sweep on too. They always told me a tiger was not fast, and
had to sneak upon the sheep but I know better than that now.
My dogs are fast, and my horse is not slow, and I think we would have lost
him, only I thought of the gun. So I unstrings it from my shoulder,
and let's go at him. I know he was hit by the way he wriggled, and
by the way old Sweep raved as he smelt his blood. He collared him
in the gully after a good chase. Old Sweep into it
with a vengeance, and the other dogs helped him a bit. I got
up to them when they had him down, but he was soon up; and when it saw
me it did not seem to fight the dogs, except to snap sideways at them as
it made for me. I kept on backing, and he kept on coming, and pretty
fast, too, although the dogs were at him. My gun is a single barrel,
and I did not stop to put in another cartridge after I shot at it, and
I did not think I could get another in, for I had to keep the dogs on it,
and my eyes, too. I thought I would have to hit it with the gun.
However, they tripped him up for a minute, and I got a cartridge in.
I called the dogs off, and when it got on its feet it made straight for
me, but I dropped it about 9ft. from me. I am now fully convinced
a big tiger is as fast as most dogs, and will fight a man when cornered."
"It appears so," I answered. "Yes, answered the man".
female thylacines at Beaumaris Zoo (QD) circa 1925, one with an amputated
forefoot. All three females succumbed to the mange-like illness,
and were dead by the end of the year. Another photo of these individuals
The speed and endurance
of a thylacine when pursued is noted in an article entitled "Encounter
with a Tasmanian Tiger" which appeared in the Illustrated Sydney News
of the 16th April 1867 (p. 5):
"A hunt of a most
exciting kind was immediately improvised, the tiger leading its pursuer
through lagoons and timber, and maintaining tremendous speed.
After a chase of an hour and a quarter the tiger began to show signs of
weariness, and his enemy being enabled to come within flagellating
distance, soon brought it to bay by means of a liberal application of the