The Tasmanian tiger is thought to have gone extinct in 1936, but mysterious sightings suggest the creature might still be out there

iStockBenjamin, the last known live Tasmanian tiger, died in the Beaumaris Zoo in 1936.
  • The Tasmanian tiger – a marsupial that looked like a cross between a large cat, a fox, and a wolf – is thought to have gone extinct in 1936.
  • But according to a document recently released by the Tasmanian government, eight sightings of Tasmanian tigers have been reported in the last three years.
  • The most recent report came in July, when a man found what might be a Tasmanian tiger footprint in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • Tasmanian tigers were carnivorous and ate kangaroos, wombats, and sheep. They were hunted to extinction in the 19th century by British settlers in Tasmania.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On September 7, 1936, the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo.

Or so we thought.

Last month, Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment released a document that revealed Australian citizens have been reporting Tasmanian tiger sightings. In the last two years, there have been eight reported sightings; the most recent was in July.

The tiger was a member of the Thylacine family of carnivorous marsupials. It was recognisable by its yellow-brown fur and a pallet of black stripes across the lower back and tail (hence the tiger moniker).

Tasmanian tigers preyed on kangaroos, wombats, and occasionally sheep and livestock, which brought them into conflict with British colonists who settled in Tasmania in 1803.

Some 130 years later, the last wild Tasmanian tiger was thought to have been hunted to extinction.

Here’s everything we know about the elusive animal – and why some experts and hunters think it may not be extinct after all.

The most recent report about a Tasmanian tiger was in July: A man said he’d found a tiger footprint in the mountains near Hobart, Tasmania.

John GouldLithographic plate of Tasmanian tigers by John Gould, from a 1863 edition of ‘Mammals of Australia.’

Two years before that, a couple saw an animal that they said they were “100% certain” was a Tasmanian tiger near Corinna, Tasmania.

“The animal had a stiff and firm tail, that was thick at the base. It had stripes down its back,” the report read. “It was the size of a large Kelpie (bigger than a fox, smaller than a German Shepherd).”

Another sighting occurred in February 2018 in western Tasmania, about 120 miles north of Hobart. That report described “a large cat-like creature” with black stripe markings on the back of its body.

Wikimedia CommonsA taxidermied Tasmanian tiger at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain.

The government has kept the individuals who filed the reports anonymous.

Since the tiger’s extinction in 1936, Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service has investigated more than 400 reported sightings. But none have yielded any definitive proof.

L. Medland/Wikimedia CommonsA Tasmanian tiger, circa 1906.

“It all proved terribly poor value,” Nick Mooney, the wildlife biologist currently in charge of the agency’s investigations, said in January. “Hundreds and hundreds of times people have gone to look where a sighting report has been, and there’s been nothing.”

In September 2017, a group called the Booth Richardson Tiger Team made waves by releasing video clips and still images of a creature’s blurry snout. The group captured the footage using trail cameras in the Tasmanian wilderness.

“We believe 100% that it is a thylacine,” tiger expert Adrian Richardson said during a press conference after releasing videos.

But Mooney was sceptical.

“My first impression was a flash of excitement which sobered on analysis,” he told Gizmodo. Optimistically, he said, there was a one in three chance the animal was a Tasmanian tiger.

Tasmanian tigers resembled a cross between a fox, a wolf, and a large house cat.

National Archives of Australia/Wikimedia CommonsA captive Tasmanian tiger at the Hobart Zoo in 1933.

The creatures were are also known as Tasmanian wolves due to their similarities to dogs, coyotes, and (of course) wolves.A September 2019 study revealed genetic and skeletal similarities between Tasmanian tigers and modern wolves, too.

The creature a marsupial. Like kangaroos and koalas, it carried its young in a belly pouch.

Wikimedia CommonsThylacine family at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1909

Unlike most other marsupial species, both male and female Tasmanian tigers had these pouches.

The animal’s name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, translates roughly to “dog-headed pouched one.”

According to American anthropologist Richard K. Nelson, “The thylacine is, or was, one of the most extraordinary and improbable animals on Earth – a kangaroo redesigned as a wolf.”

Tasmanian tigers grew to between 39 and 51 inches, with a 20-inch tail. They weighed up to 66 pounds.

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, HobartTwo Tasmanian tigers in captivity at the Hobart Zoo.

They could live up to seven years in the wild.

The tiger’s closest living relative is the Tasmanian devil, a carnivore that still occupies the island of Tasmania.

Wikimedia CommonsA Tasmanian devil in an aggressive stance at Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, Tasmania.

Tasmanian tigers had stiff tails like a kangaroo’s, short legs, and jaws with 40 to 50 sharp teeth.

Tasmanian tigers were carnivorous: They hunted kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and farm animals like sheep and chickens.

Henry BurrellA Tasmanian tiger photographed in a cage with chickens, 1921.

The predators liked to hunt at night, either alone or with a partner.

The creatures’ taste for sheep brought them into conflict with British settlers that came to Australia in the early 1800s.

Wikimedia CommonsThylacine family at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1910

The tigers communicated via husky, coughing barks or “terrier-like, double yaps,” according to the Tasmanian government.

The tigers disappeared from mainland Australia at least 3,000 years ago, but they remained plentiful on the island of Tasmania.

Smithsonian Institutional Archives,1904A photo of a pair of Tasmanian tigers — a male and female — in the Washington DC Zoo in 1906.

In 1806, Tasmania’s surveyor-general described the tiger this way: “Eyes large and full, black, with a nictant membrane, which gives the animal a savage and malicious appearance.”

These animals were shy and easily captured.

Wikimedia CommonsA photo of a hunter and his bagged Thylacine from 1869. The image may have been taken by photographer Victor Prout.

In 1888, Tasmania’s government started paying trappers and hunters to kill the creatures.

Between 1888 and 1909, the government paid out bounties for 2,184 Tasmanian tiger scalps.

Hobart Zoo/Wikimedia CommonsAn image of two Tasmanian tigers, with a juvenile in front, that lived in the Hobart Zoo, January 2, 1921.

Before it went extinct, the Tasmanian tiger had been around Australia, Tasmania, and Papua New Guinea for 4 million years.

Around 5,000 Tasmanian tigers lived on the island when the British settled there, according to the National Museum of Australia.

Wikimedia CommonsWilfred Batty of Mawbanna, Tasmania, with the last Tasmanian tiger known to have been shot in the wild.

In May 1930, a farmer named Wilf Batty shot the last wild Tasmanian tiger after he discovered it in his hen house.

Competition from non-native wild dogs and habitat destruction also contributed to the tigers’ decline.

Members of the species persisted in captivity over the next six years.

Wikimedia CommonsThe last Tasmanian tiger, named Benjamin, photographed at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart in 1933.

The last known Tasmanian tiger, an animal named Benjamin, died at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart in September 1936.

Ironically, the Tasmanian government had declared it a protected species just two months prior.

Benjamin died of exposure after zookeepers accidentally locked him out of his shelter on a cool night.

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, HobartA solitary Tasmanian tiger in captivity at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart.

Benjamin’s death marked the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, though it took the government until 1986 to officially declare the species extinct.

Even before that declaration, in the early 1980s, reports of tiger sightings became so frequent that the government started equipping wildlife officials with “Thylacine Response Kits.” That way, researchers could properly gather pawprints and scat as evidence of potential sightings, the New Yorker reported,

Researchers have even made efforts to bring back the Tasmanian tiger.

Emőke Dénes/Wikimedia CommonsA Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) skeleton at the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology in England.

In 1999, scientists at the Australian Museum started the Thylacine Cloning Project – an attempt to clone a Tasmanian tiger. The research team extracted DNA from female Thylacine tissue that had been preserved in alcohol for more than a century.

But the project was cancelled in 2005 after the scientists deemed the DNA unusable.

Although scientists’ efforts to clone Tasmanian tigers hit a dead end, the search for the creatures continues.

Wikimedia CommonsA young thylacine on alert in 1910.

As recently as 2005, the Australian magazine Bulletin offered a reward of 1.25 million Australian dollars for “a live, uninjured animal.”

“Many people are just fascinated with this creature,” Greg Berns, a scientist at Emory University, told Smithsonian magazine. “It was iconic.”

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