Plausible Sightings of Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Sparks Search in Queensland

Zoologists in Queensland are in a tizzy. It seems that plausible possible sightings of a Tasmanian tiger in Northern Queensland has triggered scientists to undertake a search for the species long thought to have died out more than 80 years ago.

The last Tasmanian tiger was thought to have died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. It was also widely believed to have become extinct on mainland Australia at least 2,000 years ago. As of late, sightings of some large dog-like animals that are neither dingoes nor foxes have spiked in the recent decades despite the common skepticism that surrounded the accounts.

It was the recent eyewitness accounts of potential thylacines in the far Northern Queensland that became the catalyst for scientists from James Cook University to launch a search for the animal.

It is Professor Bill Laurance said that he had spoken, at some length, with two people about the animals they had seen in Cape York peninsula that could potentially be Tasmanian tigers. The accounts of the sightings were quite plausible as the descriptions of the animals were quite detailed.

One was a long standing employee of the Queensland National Park Services and the other was a frequent camper in the north of the state. The professor said all the potential sightings to date had been at night. “In one case, four animals were observed at close rage–about 20 feet away–with a spotlight.”

The detailed descriptions of the eyes, shape, and behavior were inconsistent with the known attributes of other large species in the north Queensland. The common animals in the area are dingoes, wild dogs, or feral pigs.

The sightings occurred at two separate locations on the Cape York peninsula but the specific details of the locations are being kept confidential. “Everything is being handled with strict confidence,” says Laurance.

He mentioned people who claimed to have seen a thylacine were “quite nervous about relating their tales for fear of being branded kooks or fringe types”.

Even English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins has tweeted hopefully regarding news of the study. “Can it be true? Has Thylacinus been seen alive? And in mainland Australia not Tasmania? I so want it to be true.”

Sandra Abell, a researcher with James Cook University’s Center for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science who was leading the field survey has said that they had been contacted with more possible sightings since their intentions were made known to the public. She was in the process of deciding on sites for more than 50 cameras that will be set up on Cape York peninsula. Their target date shall be at the onset of the dry season in April or May.

Abell also said even if a thylacine was not detected, the survey would inform the center’s understanding of the status of rare and endangered mammal species on the peninsula. It seems that several mammals, including the northern bettong, were at risk from introduced predators.

“It is a low possibility that we’ll find thylacines, but we’ll certainly get lots of data on the predators in the area and that will help our studies in general,” she said.  It was “not impossible” there were thylacines to be found. “It is not a mythical creature. A lot of descriptions people give, it’s not a glimpse in the car headlights. People who say they’ve actually seen them can describe them in great detail–so it’s hard to say they’ve seen anything else. I’m not ruling it out at all, but to actually get them on camera will be incredibly lucky.”

We’re all hoping the rediscovery of a thriving Tasmanian tiger, aren’t you?

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