Historic photo of Tasmanian tiger
Tasmanian tiger (photograph: Tasmanian Archives: AA193/1/1002)

Tasmanian tiger

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Scientific name: Thylacinus cynocephalus

​The Tasmanian tiger or thylacine is one of the most fabled animals in the world. European settlers were puzzled by it, feared it and killed it when they could. After only ​a century of European settlement, the animal had been pushed to the brink of extinction. 

The thylacine looked like a large, long dog with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and a big head. Its scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means pouched dog with a wolf’s head. When fully grown it measured about 180 cm from nose to tail tip, stood about 58 cm high at the shoulder and weighed up to 30 kg. The short, soft fur was brown except for 13 to 20 dark brown-black stripes that extended from the base of the tail to almost the shoulders.  

Thylacines were usually mute but when anxious or excited made a series of husky, coughing barks. When hunting, they gave a distinctive terrier-like double yap, repeated every few seconds.

The thylacine was shy and avoided contact with humans. Despite its common name, 'tiger', it had a quiet, nervous temperament compared to its little cousin, the Tasmanian devil​. Captured animals generally gave up without a struggle. When hunting, the thylacine relied on its stamina and good sense of smell.

​Thylacines lived in zoos for up to nine years, but none were never bred in captivity. Their life expectancy in the wild was thought to be about five to seven years.

Distribution an​​d habitat

Fossils and Aboriginal rock paintings show that the thylacine once lived throughout Australia and New Guinea. Remains have been dated at about 2,200 years old. Predation and competition from the dingo may have contributed to the thylacine's disappearance from mainland Australia and New Guinea.

Bass Strait protected a relict population of thylacines in Tasmania. When Europeans arrived in 1803 thylacines were widespread in Tasmania. Their preferred habitat was a mosaic of dry eucalypt forest, wetlands and grasslands. 

Why are the​​y extinct?

The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and thylacines.

In 1830 the Van Diemen’s Land Company introduced a bounty on thylacines and by 1910 they were considered rare. In 1933 one of the few remaining thylacines was captured in the Florentine Valley and sold to the Hobart Zoo. In 1936 the thylacine was added to the list of protected wildlife but, on 7 September 1936, the last known thylacine in captivity died at the Hobart Zoo. 

Since then no conclusive evidence of a live thylacine has been found. However, reports of thylacine sightings continue. The species was declared extinct in 1986.