TASMANIA (page 9)

City Park Zoo [Launceston] (continued):

    The Launceston Examiner of the 8th November 1890 (p. 4) notes the inhabitants at the City Park Zoo (including thylacines) and the recent improvements made to the cages: 

    "Alterations to the cages in the City Park have been completed, and a vast improvement effected in every way.  The cages, which may practically be said to be new, are commodious, and six of them have been raised from the ground on high pillars, thus admitting a free current of air underneath.  The floors of two of the larger ones are level with the ground, and in these a number of birds have been located.  The repaired cages are eight in number, and of these one is set apart for a collection of Tasmanian devils, another is inhabited by a superior looking dingo, a couple of 'harmless necessary' badgers are domiciled in a third, while in the fourth may be seen two excellent specimens of the marsupial wolf.  Two of the remaining new cages are untenanted, and the larger ones are, as before stated, devoted to birds.  The cages are undoubtedly in first-class order, and every facility is afforded to keep them clean and free from obnoxious smells.  The curator has procured a spray pump and disinfectant for the purpose of keeping down all disagreeable odours, and at the same time ensuring the good health of the animals.  It is understood that another pheasant aviary will be erected at once in another portion of the Park".

    R. U. Sinurbe, in an article entitled "A City Stroll", published in the Launceston Examiner of the 19th November 1887 (p. 2), makes reference to a thylacine on display in the City Park Zoo collection:

    "Savage looking brute this marsupial wolf, tiger or hyena as he is variously called!  The last representative of the great marsupial carnivore doomed to extinction for he has gone to the mountain fastnesses before creeping settlement and even in these last retreats he is scarce - interesting as specially Tasmanian and of nearly obsolete existence".

    H. Button, writing in the Examiner newspaper of the 18th July 1907 (p. 7), voices his concerns over the fate of Tasmania's fauna, and makes reference to the formation of the City Park Zoo and his hopes for its future:

    "OUR NATIVE ANIMALS. (To the Editor.) 


    Your Outlands correspondent, whose communication appears in today's "Examiner," seems to have gauged the dominant spirit of the community.  He says that poison laid for rabbits in the vicinity of Lake Crescent had killed wild ducks in scores; and the very rational conclusion he draws is that if our native game is destroyed it will cripple the tourist interest.  To a large extent I am afraid he is right.  There is a growing tendency to regard everything from a tourist standpoint.  "Will it pay?"  Granted that abounding rabbits are a nuisance - but even so, they are not an unmixed nuisance - must their destruction be secured, though it result in the extirpation of useful and beautiful creatures that lend charm to our otherwise silent and sombre forests?  The appeal on the ground of sentiment aesthetics and humanity - to spare our furred and feathered friends, may fail; but when made in the name of mammon, who can doubt its cogency?  Must everything be sacrificed to so ignoble a deity?  I am very glad to see that attention has been called to the desirableness of doing something to prevent the extermination of our indigenous fauna.  Our mammals especially are peculiar to this new world.  They are shy, and retreat as settlement advances; but in our limited area this defence will soon be withdrawn, and then the end will quickly be reached.  We leave annihilated the aboriginal race and the emu: is not that enough for 60 years?  Must our remaining animals, already scarce, be ruthlessly destroyed by wholesale poisoning and in other ways, until even kangaroo and wallaby share the fate of the dodo and moa, both of which were once regarded as mythical?  I sincerely hope not.  Might not the timber reserves - which, by the way, are far too few in number and too small in area - be also utilised for the preservation of our native animals?  Here at least they might find an asylum where they would be absolutely safe.  This question has not come upon me as a surprise.  I have long seen it approaching, and nearly 30 years ago, when I had the honour to hold a seat in our civic council, I tried in a humble way to mitigate the threatening evil.  After much effort, followed by a good deal of ridicule, I induced my fellow aldermen to consent to the formation, in the City Park, of a small collection of our native birds and mammals, so that residents and visitors might be able to see (and it was the only opportunity that thousands could have) the creatures of which they had previously only heard or read.  Mr McGowan entered very heartily into the enterprise and by his zeal and devotion made it fairly successful.  But the money necessary was sadly inadequate, and we were almost exclusively dependent upon donations that had been more or less injured in capture, and in consequence soon died.  Thus our specimens were few and inconstant.

Occasionally we would have four or five of one kind, and then it would be entirely unrepresented.  The difficulty of getting the larger of these animals, such as the marsupial wolf, is every year becoming greater.  A considerable time has elapsed since one of these interesting creatures, which in some degree seem to unite the canidae and felidae, was in the collection, though I see that Mr McGowan is advertising for them.  My hope was that long before this there would have been a complete series of our carnivora arranged in progressive order, like the dead specimens in a museum; and above all, that proper seclusion would have been provided for breeding, so that by this means a continuous supply would be ensured, and better opportunities afforded for watching their habits at all times.  In conclusion, let me express the hope that the city council will recognise the importance of this matter, as well from an educational as from a scientific point of view, and that they will encourage their zealous curator in his praiseworthy efforts.

Yours, etc., 

H. BUTTON. July 17".

William McGowan
William McGowan (1858-1939).
Superintendent of City Park Zoo.
    Prior to 1921, no council funding was allocated for the purchase of new animals for the collection.  Undeterred by these financial constraints, McGowan proceeded to develop the zoo through donations and exchanges, and further through the sale of excess stock to local animal collectors and to mainland Australian zoos.  At its height, the zoo exhibited over 90 different species of mammals and birds.

    William McGowan was known to have actively traded with six zoological societies (Adelaide, Melbourne, Moore Park, London, Washington, and Madras) and had a healthy export trade in live thylacines.  McGowan also traded in dead specimens - an adult female thylacine and her four pups were sold to Museum Victoria in June 1909 and remain in the museum's collection to this day.

    The capture of a number of the zoo's thylacines is noted in the local press.  A juvenile thylacine destined for display at City Park Zoo is reported in the Mercury newspaper of the 29th June 1886 (p. 2):

    "A TASMANIAN TIGER: - Mr. J. H. Cleary brought to The Mercury Office yesterday a three-parts grown Tasmanian tiger, which had been captured on Friday at Bream Creek, on the property of Mr. F. Dunbabin, by Mr. T. H. Cleary.  The tiger, which was confined to a box, seemed quite lively, and was sent up to Launceston last night by train, where it will form an important addition to the collection of animals in the Public Park.  Mr. Cleary stated that tigers were at present plentiful in the Bream Creek district, and were very destructive to sheep".

    The Tasmanian of the 6th August 1892 (p. 26) reports on the capture of a thylacine destined for City Park:

    "On Monday a native hyena was captured a few miles from Egmont by Mr W. Davis, who brought it into Westbury before forwarding it on to the gardens in Launceston".

    The Colonist newspaper of the 24th August 1889 (p. 21) notes the arrival of a female thylacine with three pouch young at City Park:

    "The superintendent informs us that he has procured a female Tasmanian tiger with three young in the pouch.  We understand that this is not the first that has been caught with young, but hitherto they have not been a success.  It is hoped that this specimen will prove so, as it will be a novelty not to be seen everyday".

    McGowan's first recorded export of thylacines was to the Adelaide Zoo in 1885.  In an article headed "Zoological" published in the Examiner newspaper of the 12th June, 1885 (p. 2) it notes the arrival of two thylacines at City Park destined for immediate sale to the Adelaide Zoo:

     "The two Tasmanian tigers which were brought to town and lodged in the garden attached to the caretaker's house, Town Park, were shipped on board the s.s. Mangana yesterday en route to South Australia.  Mr. McGowan, the caretaker of the Town Park, telegraphed to the Director of the Botanical and Zoological Gardens, Adelaide, stating that he had these two tigers for sale, and stating the terms and asking if he would purchase them.  He received an immediate reply accepting the tigers on the terms named, and they were shipped accordingly.  They should reach Adelaide on Monday next, and will doubtless form a pleasing addition to the zoological collection in the garden there".

    Of the fourteen zoos known to have exhibited thylacines, City Park holds the record for having the greatest number of captive thylacines on display. Paddle (2012, p. 85) states that 66 thylacines were displayed at the zoo between 1885 and 1933. Paddle's estimate, however, is open to revision, as the Mercury newspaper of the 8th July 1882 (p. 3) makes reference to an earlier thylacine on display in 1882:

    "In the cages, which are placed near the pavillion and off the main entrance, are four Tasmanian eagles, four white hawks, several swamp and sparrow hawks, eight owls and mopehawks, bronzewing pigeons and plovers, cockatoos and parrots, English starlings and quail, crows and ravens, magpies and jays, peacock and hens, guinea-fowls, Australian and Tasmanian laughing jackasses, and a large emu.  There are also in the cages an Adelaide dingo, a native dog, an English fox, Tasmanian devils, tiger and native cats, Australian bear, wombats, porcupine, forester kangaroo, several brush kangaroo and wallaby, kangaroo-rats, black, ring-tailed, and other opossums, rabbits and hares, a stag from Ben Lomond and one from Cressy, and four monkeys".

    This thylacine is omitted from Paddle's 2012 (p. 80 & 85) listing, and consequently extends the period of display by three years.  The Thylacine Museum's preliminary total for the period (1882 -1933) is 76 thylacines, although it must be stressed that this is a "work in progress total" and subject to revision as further research is undertaken.  With reference to the zoo's first thylacine, the Launceston Examiner of the 10th May 1884 (p. 1) gives indication to a possible (though not proven) source:

    "I was shown a very fine specimen of the native tiger to-day, at Mr. Tucker's stables at the Corners.  The animal has been recently caught by Mr. Percy Tucker, who has chained him up in the stable, just as you would chain up a dog.  He tells me he is undecided whether to sell him or to break him in to work sheep, though he thinks he might prove a little bit hard for this class of work.  The animal seems to take his captivity kindly enough and to be in blooming condition.  He is about the size of an ordinary colley, but longer in the body and is beautifully marked.........  Mr. Percy Tucker who has caught other tigers alive at different times, one of which was sent to Launceston a short time since.  This last captive was caught in a springer (set about a mile and a half from the centre of the town) by the off forefoot, and it says something for the ingenuity and nerve of his captor that he succeeded in releasing his prey uninjured single-handed - taking him home and chaining him up as he would his sheep dog".

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