The partially stuffed specimen skin of a young male thylacine in the collection
of the British Museum of Natural History is worthy of special mention,
being the youngest specimen skin known to exist. The specimen was
collected by William Frederick Petterd in 1887, and was approximately 3-4
months of age at its death. It is interesting to note that the tail
of the pup is almost black in colour, as is the case in Gleeson's
portrait of the pups in the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
young specimen skin BMNH 1822.214.171.124. Courtesy: British Museum of
International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).
A thylacine skin [USNM 155408] in the collection of the Smithsonian National
Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. is unique testament to a level
of sexual aggression in the species. In 1905, a female thylacine
on display at the Washington Zoo (the sole surviving member of a family
group first exhibited on the 3rd September 1902), was introduced to a newly
acquired male. As an unrelated pair, the zoo was no doubt hoping
for a successful pairing that might have resulted in young. Initially,
the thylacines were kept separated at feeding times and during the night
to prevent any potential confrontation. On the 7th October 1905,
the keeper W. H. Blackburne noted in the "Daily
Report of the Animal Department" that the male attacked the female
on the morning of the 6th October and inflicted damage to her ear and head:
"Tasmanian wolf male half of one ear bitten off and a bud cut to the head
- The Tasmanian wolves have been the best of friends for the past two months.
I have been careful in regards to getting them accustomed to each other;
they have always been kept separated at feeding time and during the night
until I felt sure they were safe before I would leave them together overnight
- the fighting occurred about 11am".
The injuries described by Blackburne are clearly visible on the head of
the preserved skin (below left).
detail of skin USNM 155408.
International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).
skin MNHP 1891-327.
Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle.
N. Ayliffe. Source: International Thylacine Specimen Database (2013).
The skin of a male thylacine (MNHP 1891-327) (above right) exhibited at
the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris from the 17th April 1886 to
31st March 1891 warrants brief mention. The skin was chemically prepared
for taxidermy, but for reasons unknown, the mounting process was not completed.
The skin survives in the museum's collection to this day, but is in a fragile
state of preservation.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the early decades
of the twentieth century, perfect thylacine skins for institutional collections
were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Dr. Bob Paddle (2012)
asserts that the reason for the scarcity of good quality skins was the
effect of disease on thylacine populations. It is known that an epizootic
disease of unknown origin swept across Tasmania from its initial appearance
on the east coast in 1896, traversing the island, and arriving on the west
coast in 1901. The disease affected a number of marsupi-carnivores,
including thylacines. One of the characteristics of the disease was
bleeding skin lesions with varying degrees of hair loss. If this
was significant, it would have rendered the skins unsuitable for museum
display. Paddle (2012) notes that William McGowan, the Superintendant
of the City Park Zoo (Launceston), expressed his concerns about obtaining
good quality skins in a letter to the National Museum in Victoria dated
21st June 1909:
"Complete skeletons" from thylacines possessing "damaged or rotten skins"
were available, but that fine, entire specimens of the species were now
almost impossible to find".
Paddle (2012) cites the comments
of Herbert Scott, Director of the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston,
on the difficulty in obtaining good quality skins from trappers:
"Scott commented upon the recent difficulty of obtaining thylacine specimens
for the museum from trappers, offering 7/6 for the body of a thylacine,
more than doubling the price to 17/6 if the skin was in a fit state for
preservation (letter 10/5/1899) - such adult skins, no matter the quality,
having already raised for the trapper at least £1 from the government
bounty. He apologized to his professional colleagues for the necessity
of now sending less-than-perfect specimens to other museums as representatives
of the species - "I think it worth sending a damaged animal... (as)
good specimens are rare and not easy to obtain" - and noting that the most
recent thylacine dying in Launceston Zoo was "in poor condition and fit
for nothing" (letter 3/8/1901)".
Paddle (2012) quotes from a letter by James Kershaw (National Museum of
Victoria) to Herbert Scott (Queen Victoria Museum) dated 4th June 1903,
in which he states that the museum is willing to take poor quality specimens:
"The National Museum of Victoria, anxious for any additional thylacine
specimens, was prepared to take such poor condition specimens off the hands
of the Queen Victoria Museum, and were pleased to note how by exercising
care, we have been able to save the skin, which showed traces of mange".
Paddle (2012) notes that of the last nine thylacines exhibited at Adelaide
Zoo between 1897 and 1902, only one skin was deemed suitable for preservation:
"The zoo destroyed the skin and post-cranial skeletons of two of these
specimens, and not even the skull was preserved from a third death.
Six specimens were considered at the zoo to be probably in good-enough
condition to be donated to the South Australian Museum and it is possible
to specifically identify five of these in the Museum's current collection.
While the skeletal material was preserved from all five specimens, only
one of the skins was deemed worthy of preservation by museum staff".
Paddle concludes that the loss of thylacines at the Adelaide Zoo correlates
with the record of the spread of the epizootic disease in Tasmania:
"The known preservation of only one skin from these last nine specimens
is most unusual and strongly suggestive of their presentation with significant
Paddle's evidence of disease as a factor in the collapse of the thylacine
population is convincing. It is supported by the findings of Sleightholme
& Campbell (2015) in their paper on 20th century thylacine populations,
by evidence from zoo populations, and by the absence of specimens from