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    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 rock art.
    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 Hyena (Dasyurus) is not to be met with on the continent of New Holland".

    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

thylacine pictograph - Gabarnmung Cave, Arnhem Land, NT
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 "Notes 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 the province (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". 

    Supporting evidence 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 
the 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

Argus, 31st October 1868
Argus, 31st October 1868 (p. 6).
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.
sculpture of the Adnyamathanha people - Flinders Ranges, SA
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 thylacines 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.

back to: Extinction vs. Survival (page 12) return to the section's introduction forward to: Alleged Mainland Thylacine Sightings (page 2)

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