(page 9)

Expeditions and Searches - 1937 to Present-Day

© Rosemary Fleay-Thomson (2002)

    When we arrived on the scene early next morning, a desolate scene met our eyes; there were scuffle marks but also plenty of definite footprints in the soft wet ground.  Hair adhering to the traps was gathered carefully by father, and when the hair and some faeces found were later submitted to Dr. Pearson at the Tasmanian Museum, he verified that beyond any reasonable doubt they were from a thylacine.  If the full complement of traps had been left in place then perhaps father would have had one Tasmanian thylacine 'in the bag'.  It was a tragedy for him, truly the story of the big one that got away.  Since the 1930s, father had worked hard to study the thylacine; this must have been one of the worst moments of his life - all that dedicated, tiring work in such rough terrain and all for naught; surely this was the ultimate in frustration for him!

the Fleay's camp
The camp near the Collingwood River.  The Fleay family welcome Mr. & Mrs. Michael Sharland and children (two children on left).  Rosemary Fleay in striped jumper, Stephen on box at front, Sigrid Fleay standing in tent.

    Father was extremely reluctant to leave Tasmania at this most interesting stage, but duty called at the Healesville Sanctuary, and he could ill afford to stay away any longer.  The traps were left in the capable hands of Roy Alderson and other bushmen of the area, but although these men worked tirelessly that Winter and the following Spring, no further encouraging results were forthcoming.  My father had left Tasmania with every intention of returning to mount a further expedition the following year now that he knew just where to concentrate his search, with the knowledge gained from this first-hand experience in the 1945-46 expedition.  However, he was required to travel with three platypuses to the Bronx Zoo in New York, so unfortunately no further opportunity to secure a breeding pair of thylacines presented itself.

    My memories of that fascinating trip to Tasmania 57 years ago remain very clear.  I can still almost smell the damp, woody bush, feel the hurt of physical exhaustion, the pain of not securing our quarry, and will always have the utmost admiration for the dedication of my parents, David and Sigrid Fleay, who tried so hard under the most difficult conditions to follow their dream and make a positive difference to the fate of that most unique wonder of the Australian marsupial world - the ever-elusive thylacine.

Rosemary Fleay-Thomson

    For further information on David Fleay's pioneering work, please refer to his biography, "Animals First".

Dr. Eric Guiler (1959) (1960) (1961) (1963) (1980-81):

    Undoubtedly, the greatest contribution to date made by any individual in search of the thylacine was that by Dr. Eric Guiler of the University of Tasmania. 

    Guiler investigated numerous thylacine sightings, as well as undertaking several comprehensive searches around the area of the Van Diemen's Land company's Woolnorth property in North West Tasmania.  He also pioneered the use of automatic cameras.

Woolnorth entrance sign
Guiler Search 1 (1959):
    Guiler (Guiler and Godard 1998, p. 196) notes: "The expedition set out from Hobart early on the morning of 7 November 1959, establishing camp the next day on the track leading into the Studland Bay run.  The very next day tiger tracks were seen at the northern end of the Bay and snares were set in likely places.  One moonlit night, the party was walking along the coastal grasslands and noticed that the game was behaving peculiarly.  All of the animals were acting very timidly, not moving more than a couple of metres from their cover and scurrying for shelter at the slightest
movement.  Such behaviour was never observed on other nights nor on future expeditions.  The searchers believed that it was during this trip that they got as close to a Tasmanian tiger as on any other occasion before or since.  It rained through the night and about 10am the next morning a clear tiger footprint without rain specks was discovered on a muddy patch".

Guiler Search 2 (1960):

  The team, encouraged by the findings of the first expedition, and from reports of a sighting near to Cape Grim, returned to Woolnorth the following year.  It was on this expedition that automatic field cameras were employed for the first time.  Unfortunately, no tigers were captured on film, but a wallaby caught in a snare had been killed in a manner implicative of a thylacine kill. 

Guiler Search 3 (1961):

  In February 1961, Dr. Guiler returned to Woolnorth with what he hoped was an improved camera system consisting of 5 military aircraft cameras with headlights for illumination.  Unfortunately, the

Guiler Woolnorth Searches 1-3 (marked with circle).  Satellite image: Google Earth.  Place your pointer over the map to magnify.
cameras developed technical problems that could not be rectified in the field, so were of limited use.  During their time at Woolnorth, the expedition explored most of the property but found no evidence of thylacines.  Despite these setbacks, Guiler was convinced that Woolnorth and the surrounding area was home to a remnant population of the species.
back to: Expeditions and Searches (page 8) return to the section's introduction forward to: Expeditions and Searches (page 10)

Search the Thylacine Museum
Site Map
Website copyright © C. Campbell's NATURAL WORLDS.
Photographs and other illustrations (where indicated) are © C. Campbell's NATURAL WORLDS.
Other photos and images are © their respective owners.