The existence of the thylacine on the Australian mainland is well documented,
not only from physical
remains (both fossil and non-fossil), but also in Aboriginal
It is widely believed that a combination of climate change, competition
from man, and the introduction of the dingo were collectively responsible
for the thylacine's demise on the mainland, with the species only surviving
in Tasmania by the time of British settlement.
Dr. John Lhotsky (1795-1866), writing in the Hobart Town Courier of the
28th October 1836 (p. 4), makes reference to the absence of the thylacine
(hyena) on the mainland:
"The animal kingdom is, compared with the smallness of the island, rich,
and it is a curious fact, that our Native
is not to be met with on the continent of New
The acceptance of the thylacine's extinction on the
mainland was questioned by Bob Paddle (2000) in his book "The Last Tasmanian
Tiger". Paddle provides credible evidence from the early writings
of scientists and naturalists which suggests that at least two relict populations
existed on the mainland during the early part of
An ancient Aboriginal
depiction of a thylacine with figures of hunters wielding boomerangs.
Gabarnmung Cave, Arnhem Land, NT.
|the 19th century.
Paddle cites the Victorian naturalist Cambrian who wrote a series of articles
on the Natural History of Australia" for the Melbourne
Monthly Magazine in 1885. Although Cambrian had never seen a
living thylacine, he records having personally examined the remains of
two mainland specimens. Paddle also cites a lecture given by Dr.
John Palmer Litchfield to the Adelaide Literary Association & Mechanics
Institute published in the South Australian Record and Australasian Chronicle
of the 21st March 1840, in which he states:
| "The dog faced Dasyurus,
or native dog, is a marsupial animal covered with a dirty-yellowish-brown
fur, with transverse stripes of a brownish-black colour on its back. These
animals occasion much annoyance to the first settlers of a country.
In Van Diemen's Land it was found necessary to offer a reward. In
(of South Australia) it was found necessary to offer
a reward for destroying them, but their ravages are now pretty much confined
to the thinly settled districts".
for the survival of thylacines on the mainland also comes from several
Aboriginal sources. Paddle (2000) notes:
| "Significant corroborative
evidence for European observations of South Australian thylacines
at this time (the
early 1800s) is to be found in the oral history records of the
Adnyamathanha people of
is a reference in the
Argus newspaper of the 31st October 1868 (p. 6), in which it details various
animals and birds that the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria had released
(or intended to release); the thylacine being mentioned amongst that number.
It should be stressed that no evidence exists to indicate that the thylacine
was in fact released.
Flinders Ranges, which suggests that thylacines survived in the Flinders
Ranges region, to the east of Lake
Torrens, into the 1830s".
It has long been speculated upon that thylacines were deliberately released
onto the mainland in the State of Victoria, but insufficient evidence exists
to support this contention. The only evidence that the Thylacine
Museum has been able to locate to indicate that this may have been intended
31st October 1868 (p. 6).
A stone sculpture of
the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges, at the entrance to the
Aboriginal community of Iga Warta, South Australia.
The subject of present-day mainland thylacine sightings is somewhat contentious
in that it challenges accepted scientific opinion, which states that the
thylacine died out on the mainland of Australia some 3000 years ago.
That said, Australia is a vast continent, and although unlikely, it is
not beyond the bounds of possibility that relict populations of mainland
could still exist to this day.
Reports of sightings
have come from all over Australia, but the majority originate from four
States: Western Australia (Heberle 2004), South Australia, New South
Wales, and the Gippsland region of Victoria. Sightings within these
areas number in the hundreds, and although many can be explained as mange-infected
foxes or dogs, there are a number that are intriguing and warrant further
investigation. We shall examine three such cases.