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Search 4 - Dr. David
The Mercury newspaper
of the 10th October 1945 (p. 4), reports on the imminent arrival of the
well-known Australian naturalist Dr. David Fleay, who planned to capture
a pair of thylacines for the purpose of breeding the species at the Sir
Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary (Healesville) in Victoria:
| "A party of tiger
hunters, led by Mr. David Fleay, Victoria, will reach Tasmania about November
1st to form an expedition with the object of capturing the Tasmanian thylacine,
or marsupial wolf. Experienced bushmen will accompany the party,
which may include a woman. The Fauna Board has given Mr. Fleay a
permit, to take a pair of tigers for a breeding experiment at the Sir Colin
The West Australian,
13th August 1945 (p. 11).
Sanctuary, Healesville (V), of which he is director. Considerable
organisation will be necessary before the expedition can select a site
to begin trapping; and it is expected several areas will be given a preliminary
examination. Localities suggested are the Arthur River country, on
the West Coast and near the Jane River, a tributary of the Gordon.
An area in the North-East where the tiger has been reported recently may
also be examined. The party is prepared to spend about two months
in Tasmania. The question of keeping it supplied with food if isolated
is now being discussed, and preparations are being made for the transport
of unwieldy box traps and other equipment. The Fauna Board has offered
to place at the disposal of the party the services of Insp. Fleming, its
chief field officer, who knows the Tasmanian bush intimately. The
proposed expedition has commanded considerable interest in Victoria, and
it is believed to have received the support of Melbourne citizens.
The Army is co-operating".
Dr. Fleay had originally
approached the Fauna Board as early as 1934 with his request to capture
two tigers, as noted in the Mercury newspaper of the 4th July 1934 (p.
| "The possibility
of an experiment of breeding Tasmanian tigers successfully in captivity
was mentioned by Dr. J. Pearson at a meeting of the Fauna Board yesterday.
It was stated that the animals were becoming almost extinct, and that it
was desirable that some steps to preserve them should be taken owing to
their scientific value. A request was received through the Premier's
Department from Mr. David Fleay, one of the curators of the Royal Society
of Victoria, asking for permission to secure two specimens of Tasmanian
tigers for experimental purposes. The Chairman said that he had replied
that the animals were almost extinct, and that it would entail a fair amount
of money to send an expedition to capture two of them alive. Dr.
Pearson said that in ordinary circumstances he would object to sending
away two of the animals out of the State because of their scarcity, but
Mr. Fleay was a highly trained officer, and, provided that the request
came through the Melbourne Zoo authorities, he was in favour of permission
being given to send two of the animals away to ascertain whether it was
possible to breed them in captivity. The Chairman (Colonel J. E.
C. Lord) said that any person was at liberty to take the animals, but the
consent of the Board had to be secured before they could be sent out of
the State. Mr. A. W. Burbury said that the animals were of tremendous
scientific value, and he considered that the Government should be approached
with a view of a sanctuary being established to ensure their preservation.
He pointed out that as the animals would be in a sanctuary they would be
confined to one area. He moved a motion in that direction, but it
lapsed for the want of a seconder. On the motion of Dr. Pearson,
it was decided that the request be granted, provided that it was forwarded
through the Melbourne Zoo authorities, and that the animals be on loan
and used for scientific purposes. Members stressed the difficulty
likely to be experienced in capturing a pair of the animals".
of "Tasmanian Marsupial Wolf", Hobart Zoo [Beaumaris (QD).
Courtesy: G. P. Whitley Papers, Australian Museum Archives (Ref: AMS139/4/20/1).
The image is dated circa 1928 by Whitley, but Sleightholme & Campbell
(2014), in their paper: "The earliest motion picture footage of the
last captive thylacine?", proved that this photograph was taken in
1933 and depicts "Benjamin"
Arthur Reid and his dog.
| The Fleay expedition,
financed by the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria and Melbourne University,
was based at a slab
hut on the Jane River. Traps were set up along the Erebus
River, a tributary of the Jane River. The many discomforts of this
trip are well summarized by Fleay (1946) himself:
"We lived in a heavy rainfall belt, usually with eight days wet out of
ten and not uncommonly summer snow and frost; we struggled with Horizontal
Scrub and clinging Bauera, or walked through dark and silent forests of
dripping myrtle sassafras, leatherwood and pine. Floundering journeys
with heavy packs and equipment across boggy button-grass plains and strenuous
climbing over high ranges were every-day events, not to mention the endless
torment from mosquitoes, blow-flies, biting fleas, even rheumatism".
Snares set out for wallabies
and possums were to be seen everywhere throughout the empty forest.
The expedition was told of how two brothers, in a single winter, had set
2,000 snares. Poison had also been placed about for the dasyurids,
which would have otherwise attacked the defenceless, snared victims.
No thylacine tracks were found in any place where snares were present.
A. D. Ferguson, a ranger, said that he had witnessed a thylacine the previous
winter, and a road patrolman, M. Tiffin, described how he had been sawing
a hollowed tree 2½ years earlier, and a juvenile thylacine scurried
out. An attempt was made to trap thylacines by towing trails of fresh
meat about the Collingwood Range, but failed. Fleay moved camp to
Damp Hut, near Calder's Pass, upon the discovery of some promising tracks
on Franklin Hill. There, Fleay heard a strange cry, which "suggested
the brief, sharp creak of a door and was quite unlike any cry of a mammal
or bird I have ever heard" (Fleay 1946).
The following month, they found some tracks in fresh mud, and on Poverty
Plain, it was
The Mercury, 5th November
1945 (p. 9).
|thought that a thylacine had taken a Bennet's
wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) from a trap, leaving behind a tuft
of its own fur. It apparently left tracks around the traps over the
next two days, but avoided them all. Soon afterward, the expedition
Expedition Search Area (1945-46).
image: Google Earth. Place your pointer over the map to magnify.
The Advocate newspaper
of the 22nd March 1946 (p. 2), reports on the conclusion of Dr. Fleay's
"After a three month
expedition into the roughest parts of the West Coast to trap a pair of
Tasmanian tigers for breeding purposes, Mr. D. Fleay, Director of the Healesville
Sanctuary, will return to Melbourne on Saturday. Mr. Fleay was unable
to trap a tiger, but towards the end of the trip found evidence of them.
He found three trails and on one occasion a tiger entered a trap, but escaped,
leaving some fur. Mr. Fleay hopes to return in the spring to make