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INTRODUCING THE THYLACINE:
- WHAT IS A THYLACINE? -
(page 1)
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William Paterson (1805)
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This 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.

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thylacine - London Zoo (1914)
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A 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.
Another photo of this individual is shown here.
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    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 artThe indigenous peoples of Tasmania referred to the thylacine by the following names: coorinna, loarinna, laoonana, or lagunta.

    The first written description of the thylacine was that given by Governor William 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.

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thylacine pair - US National Zoo
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A pair of thylacines displayed at the US National Zoological Park, Washington, DC (1905).  Courtesy: USNZP.
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    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, and man.

    Guiler (1998) estimated that at the time of British settlement in 1803, the total thylacine population of Tasmania numbered between 2000-3000 animals.

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thylacine - London Zoo (1909)
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A thylacine at the London Zoo, 1909.  Courtesy: Zool. Soc. London. Other photos of this individual: 1, 2, 3, 4.

    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.

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References
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return to the section's introduction forward to: What is a Thylacine? (page 2)


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