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BIOLOGY:
- BEHAVIOUR -
(page 6)
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Hunting (continued):

    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, the neocortex 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 "The 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".

Female 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".

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Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - 1933
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A 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 kangaroo 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".

    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 chase".

thylacine - London Zoo
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Thylacines at the London Zoo.  Other photos of the individual shown in the foreground: 1, 2.  Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London.
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    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:

    "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".

Beaumaris Zoo (QD) - circa 1928
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Three female thylacines at Beaumaris Zoo (QD) circa 1928, 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 is shown here.

    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 stock-whip".

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References
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