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INTRODUCING THE THYLACINE:
- SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY AND TAXONOMY -
(page 1)
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    The English translation from Greek of the thylacine's scientific name Thylacinus cynocephalus means "dog-headed pouched one".  The early British settlers in Tasmania referred to the thylacine by a variety of common names: Zebra wolf, Zebra possum, Native tiger and Native hyena.  Today, Tasmanian tiger is the most widely used name for the species.
 
"An animal of a truly singular and nouvel description..."
Paterson (1805)
Dasyurus cynocephalus
Saint-Hilaire (1810)
Didelphis cynocephala
Harris (1808)
Thylacinus cynocephalus
Temminck (1824)
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Governor William Paterson (1805):

    The earliest account of the existence of the thylacine to the non-aboriginal world was that published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on the 21st April 1805 (p. 2).

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Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser - 21st April 1805
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    "An animal of a truly singular and nouvel description was killed by dogs the 30th of March on a hill immediately contiguous to the settlement at York town, Port Dalrymple; from the following minute description of which, by Lieutenant Governor Paterson, it must be considered of a species perfectly distinct from any of the animal creation hitherto known, and certainly the only powerful and terrific of the carnivorous and voracious tribe yet discovered on any part of New Holland or its adjacent islands". 

    Governor William Paterson's (1755-1810) description was very detailed for its time, and to this day remains one of the most accurate accounts we have of the corporal dimensions of an adult thylacine.

    In a letter to Sir Joseph Banks that preceded the newspaper announcement dated 20th March 1805, Paterson states:

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    "It is very evident it is destructive and lives entirely on animal food, for on dissection I found the stomach was filled with a quantity of kangaroo weighing 5 lbs.  The weight of the whole animal is 45 lbs.  From its interior structure it must be a brute of peculiarly quick digestion; the dimensions were, from nose to the eye 4 ½ inches: length of the eye, which is remarkably large and black, 1 ¾ inches; breadth of the eye ¾ inch; from the nose to the extent of the mouth in the upper jaw, 6 inches; and to the extent of the under jaw, 4 ½ inches; breadth of the forehead, 5 ¾ inches; from the eye to the
ear, 3 ¾ inches; the ear round, diameter 3 inches; from the ear to the shoulder, 1 foot; from the shoulder to the first stripe, 7 inches; from the first stripe to the extent of the body, 2 feet; length of the tail, 1 foot 8 inches; length of the fore leg 11 inches; and of the forefoot, 5 inches; the forefoot with 5 blunt claws; height of the animal before, 1 foot 10 inches; stripes across the back 20, on the tail 3; 2 of the stripes extend down each thigh; length of the hind leg from the heel to the thigh, 1 foot; length of the hind foot, 6 inches; the hind foot with 4 blunt claws, the soles of the feet without hair; on each side of the mouth are 19 bristles, length of each 4 inches; and 6 bristles on each side under the ear, 9 on the lower jaw upon each side, and 8 under the throat; 8 fore teeth in the upper jaw, and 6 in the under; 4 grinders of a side, in the upper and lower jaw, 3 single teeth also in each; 4 tusks, or canine teeth, length of each 1 inch; circumference of the head before the ears, 1 foot 6
William Paterson, circa 1799, by William Owen
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William Paterson, circa 1799, by William Owen.
Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales.
inches, and behind the ears, 1 foot 5 inches; smallest part of the neck, 1 foot 4 inches; circumference before the shoulder, 2 feet; the body short hair and smooth, of a greyish colour, the stripes black; the hair on the neck rather longer than that on the body; the hair on the ears of a light brown colour, on the inside rather long.  The form of the animal is that of a hyena, at the same time strongly reminding the observer of the appearance of a low wolf dog.  The lips do not appear to conceal the tusks.  The testicles concealed in a pouch between the hind legs, the pouch in form the same nearly as that of the female kangaroo".
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References
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back to: What is a Thylacine? (page 4) return to the section's introduction forward to: Scientific Discovery and Taxonomy (page 2)


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