introduction is intended to provide visitors with a concise summary of
the history and biology of the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger. The
topics discussed here will be explored in greater detail as you continue
your journey through the various sections of the museum.
The thylacine is the
largest marsupial carnivore to exist into modern times and the last surviving
member of the family Thylacinidae from the order Dasyuromorphia.
Its scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus means: "dog-headed
pouched one". It is more commonly
referred to as the Tasmanian tiger, or the Tasmanian wolf. The thylacine
is considered to be one of the most spectacular examples of parallel
evolution to be found in mammals.
thylacine photographed by David Seth-Smith at the London Zoo's North Mammal
House, 1914. This image was included in a guide book to the zoo,
published in 1932. Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London.
photo of this individual is shown
| The thylacine was known
to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia long before the arrival of European
settlers, as it was frequently depicted in their rock
art. The indigenous peoples of Tasmania
referred to the thylacine by the following names: coorinna, loarinna,
The first written description
of the thylacine was that given by Governor
Paterson (1805) in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
on the 21st April 1805 (p. 2). Three years later, George Harris (1808),
Deputy Surveyor of Van
Diemen's Land, described
Didelphis cynocephala - the
Zebra opossum or Zebra wolf, in the Transactions of the Linnean Society.
This was the first scientific description of the
species. In 1810, Étienne Geoffroy Saint Hilaire (the
French embryologist, palaeontologist, and comparative anatomist) assigned
the thylacine to the genus Dasyurus and in 1824, Coenraad Jacob
Temminck (the Dutch ornithologist and zoologist, and Director of the Leiden
Museum of Natural History) is credited with separating the thylacine into
its own genus - Thylacinus.
pair of thylacines displayed at the US National Zoological Park, Washington,
DC (1905). Courtesy: USNZP.
| At the time of British
settlement, it is generally accepted that the thylacine had vanished from
its former range on the mainland of Australia
and New Guinea, and was to be found only on the island state of Tasmania
(although some historical
accounts suggest that this was not the
case). The most recent thylacine remains from the Australian
mainland date back to just over 3,000 years before present (Calaby
and White 1967, Archer 1974). The disappearance
of the thylacine from the mainland has been attributed to various
factors, ranging from the introduction of the dingo (Canis
lupus dingo), climate change, disease,
Guiler (1998) estimated
that at the time of British settlement in 1803, the total thylacine population
of Tasmania numbered between 2000-3000 animals.
thylacine at the London Zoo, 1909. Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London. Other
photos of this individual: 1,
The thylacine is crepuscular
in habit, and shy by disposition. It was rarely observed, even when
relatively common, and is not aggressive towards man.
An an adult thylacine has a total body length (inclusive of the tail) of
between 1.4m [55 inches]
and 1.6m [62 inches], with the animal standing at around 60cm [24 inches]
at the shoulder.
Thylacine body weight
varies considerably throughout the records, but anything between 15 to
35 kilograms (33 to 77 lb) seems to be the general consensus.