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images from the International Thylacine Specimen Database

The Specimens

    The Oxford English dictionary defines a specimen as being: "An individual animal, plant, piece of a mineral, etc. used as an example of its species or type for scientific study or display".

    In the introduction to the fifth revision of the International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013), Dr. Stephen Sleightholme, the Project Director states:

    "Thylacine specimens are rare and constitute some of the most valuable of all zoological specimens.  The majority are of 19th century origin, with two specimens (MNHP 1883-1909 and MNHP 2000-153) in the collection of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris, purporting to have belonged to the cabinet of King Louis XVI and dated pre 1789.  The given date of these specimens predates Paterson's 1805 account by at least 16 years.  If correct, the specimens may have been brought back to France as unknown curios on Dufresne's voyage to Van Diemen's Land in 1772. 

    Thylacine specimens are held in 115 museum and university collections in 23 countries with 8 specimens known to be in private possession.  In 54 of the collections, the species is represented by a single specimen.
Tasmania, mainland Australia and New Zealand
North America
UK and Eire
Maps depicting the distribution of thylacine specimens around the world, at the 115 institutions listed in the International Thylacine Specimen Database (Sleightholme & Ayliffe, 2013).

Place your pointer over the maps to see the place names of the location markers.

Satellite images: Google Earth.

    Of the 756* known specimens, 86* [11.4%] are located in collections in Tasmania, 215 [28.4%] in mainland Australia & New Zealand, 69 [9.1%] in North America, 5 [0.7%] in Asia, 178 [23.5%] in Europe, and 203 [26.9%] in the UK & Eire.

    * These totals exclude cave deposit finds, and have since been revised upwards in the 6th revision of the ITSD due for release in 2017.

    The country with the largest number of museum and university collections holding thylacine specimens is the United Kingdom, with a total of 24.  This is followed by Germany with 17, then mainland Australia with 11 [15 including Tasmania]"

    We are extremely fortunate in having all parts of the thylacine preserved in collections around the world.  These include the bodies of adults and pups (as wet specimens), skulls, skeletons, study skins, mounted taxidermy specimens, all of the major organs (as wet specimens) and microscopy slides. 

    In 2005, Dr Stephen Sleightholme published the first edition of the International Thylacine Specimen Database.  The ITSD is the culmination of a major cooperative effort between museums and universities that hold specimens of the thylacine to produce the first definitive catalogue of all that is known to physically remain of this unique species.  There have since been subsequent revisions of ITSD, and and the 6th revision is due for publication in 2017.

Adult Specimens:

   The rarest of all thylacine specimens, and arguably the most poignant, are the "wet" preserved adults of which five eviscerated carcasses are known to exist within four museum collections.

Specimen NRM A56 6599
Specimen NRM A56 6599.
Courtesy: Swedish Museum of Natural History (Stockholm).  Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).
Specimen OUM 8091
Specimen OUM 8091.
Courtesy: Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013)

    Undoubtedly, the best preserved of these specimens is an adult female [NRM A56 6599] in the collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.  This thylacine was on display at the London Zoo from 1884 to 1893, and was originally purchased by the Zoological Society from Dr. A. Bingham Crowther of Launceston.  A partially dissected juvenile male [OUM 8091] and a headless adult female [OUM 5292] are preserved at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, a partially skinned adult male within the collection of the National Australia Museum in Canberra [NMA 1984.0010.0714], and a headless, sectioned torso at the Grant Museum (UCL) in London [UCLZ 1653].

back to: Behaviour (page 14) return to the section's introduction forward to: The Specimens (page 2)

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