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Tasmanian Tiger

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tasmanian tiger

The Tasmanian Tiger (H.C. Richter)

Name:

Tasmanian Tiger; also known as Thylacinus cynocephalus, the Thylacine, and the Tasmanian Wolf

Habitat:

Woodlands of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania

Historical Epoch:

Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-80 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 3-4 feet long and 40-70 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Wolf-like build; stiff tail; powerful jaws

 

About the Tasmanian Tiger:

First things first: the Tasmanian Tiger has gone by a bewildering variety of names, some of them more accurate than others. Its most popular designation, the Tasmanian Tiger, is inaccurate on two fronts: first, this marsupial (pouch-bearing) mammal wasn't related to tigers, and second, it more closely resembled a scaled-down wolf (thus its next-most-popular-moniker, the Tasmanian Wolf, is a bit more reasonable). Technically, though, the Tasmanian Tiger should be referred to by its species name (Thylacinus cynocephalus) or its paleontological nickname, the Thylacine. (See 10 Facts About the Tasmanian Tiger and an article discussing the possibility of this animal's de-extinction.)

What kind of animal was the Tasmanian Tiger? This was the last in a line of marsupial predators that ranged across Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania during prehistoric times (one of its most notable forebears was Thylacoleo, the Marsupial Lion, which went extinct about 40,000 years ago). Judging by its stripes, the Thylacine seems to have preferred forest living, and it was an opportunistic predator, feeding on smaller marsupials (such as wallabies and wombats) as well as birds and possibly reptiles. Like other marsupials, the Tasmanian Tiger gave birth to "premature" babies, which crawled up the female's bodies to gestate in their backward-facing pouches.

Sadly, the reason so many people are interested in the Tasmanian Tiger is that it has gone completely extinct--the last living specimen, a zoo resident named Benjamin, died in 1936, and there have been no confirmed sightings since. Essentially, what killed the Thylacine was the arrival of aboriginal humans on Australia about 40,000 years ago; millennia of hunting (and competition from the Dingo, a type of wild dog imported from southeast Asia) caused the Tasmanian Tiger to retreat to its island habitat (hence this animal's name). European settlers drove the last nails into the Thylacine's coffin: blaming the Tasmanian Tiger for preying on sheep and chickens, officials set a bounty on these unfortunate creatures. (Today, some experts believe that populations of Thylacines still roam the island of Tasmania, but solid evidence has been lacking.)

 

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