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Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Dingo
Unfairly judged?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Feral cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Rabbits
Perhaps not so adapted to Australia

Wombat
Keg of muscle


 

 

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Tasmanian Tiger
Tasmanian Tiger

A powerful predator

In a way, the Thylacine has become symbolic of Tasmania’s tragic history fusing with a beautiful environment. In some ways, it seems to represent the sadness associated with the treatment of the Tasmanian Aborigines and the inhumanity inflicted on Convicts. The authorities were unable to appreciate what a remarkable creature it was and so they put a bounty on its head that led to its extinction. Today, culture has changed and with that change, the image of the Thylacine is used to represent almost everything Tasmanian.

Although it looked like a stripped dog, it was very different from a canine. As a marsupial, it gave birth to immature young that it raised in a pouch. In terms of behaviour, it wasn't a pack animal and instead hunted alone. It would pick up a single scent and relentlessly pursue its prey until exhaustion.

This un-doglike hunting style can be explained by understanding the behaviour of the prey that it fed upon. No four legged predator has any hope of catching a Kangaroo over tussocks, rocky terrain or bush littered with fallen timber. Furthermore, although Kangaroos congregate in groups, when frightened they often run in different directions. Thus a pack of predators can not herd them into a group where they can be picked off. Even if a roo is pulled down, a solitary Kangaroo isn't sufficient to feed a whole dog pack. Animals that feed on marsupials must be solitary and either attack by surprise, or use endurance to wear the prey down.

The Tiger's reproductive system also adapted it the cyclic nature of Australian droughts. During adverse seasons, a mother was able to slow the growth of her suckling young while still carrying embryos in her uterus. When good times returned, her embryos could start developing again.

Yet despite being so perfectly adapted to Australia, the Tiger became extinct on the Australian mainland about  3,000 years ago. It is usually said that the Tiger became extinct as it was unable to compete with the Dingo which arrived from Asia between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. But the explanation seems flawed as the Tiger had many advantages that the Dingo lacked.  Perhaps the most notable of these advantages was that the Tylacine was far more power. An early colonial report told its its encounter with a bull terrier:

"A bull-terrier was once set upon a wolf (thylacine) and bailed it up in a niche in some rocks.  There the wolf stood, with its back to the wall, turning its head from side to side, checking the terrier as it tried to butt in from alternate and opposite directions.  Finally, the dog came in close, and the wolf gave one sharp, fox-like bite, tearing a piece of the dog's skull clean off, and it fell with the brain protruding, dead." Hugh Mackay (quoted by Le Souef and Burrell 1926)Thylacine - why did it become extinct

Although biting a piece of skull clean off seems a bit far fetched, research of its biting power does in fact indicate its bite was immense. Furthermore, it either competed with or preyed upon Devils, which are always fighting and where a 10kg animal can exert the biting pressure of a 40kg dog. It needed to have a strong bite and to fight well.

Aside from being stronger than the Dingo, as a marsupial the Tiger was probably better able to recover from droughts. Furthermore, because it had a pouch it was better able to move its young to superior hunting grounds.

Although the Tiger may have been stronger than the Dingo, more capable of recovering from drought and a superior hunter, the Dingo's symbolic relationship with the nomadic humans gave it a huge comparative advantage. When the nomadic humans finished their meals, they left their scraps for the Dingos to feast on. 

The Dingo was also advantaged by the nomadic human's use of fire in hunting. The fire allowed prey to be herded where a pack of Dingoes could pull down multiple roos. Post fire, the bush was littered with the carcasses of Possums, Koalas and Devils. Although this would have been a temporary meal for a starving Tiger, as it was a solitary animal, it would had trouble competing with pack of Dingoes for the carcasses. Furthermore, rain would wash away the top soil reducing the quality of the pasture and the amount of animals that it could sustain. This didn't matter so much to the nomadic humans and the Dingo as they would just go to another region, start another fire and catch more prey. But if the Tiger followed, it would again be in conflict with a Dingo pack. If it stayed, the quality of its hunting grounds was greatly diminished by the soil erosion.

Eventually, the bush would regenerate and the green shoots would attract more animals. Unfortunately, this is when the nomadic would also return and if they found the Tiger taking their prey, there is little doubt they would spear it as a competitor, or as a food source.  

The Tiger also probably fed on Devils and may also have been harmed by declining populations of Devils on the mainland. By day, Devils like to hide in bushes or hollow tree logs which are the first to go in a bushfire. Such refuges are also easy to find by a skilled human tracker.

The Tiger population was confined to Tasmania where there were no Dingoes, where the local nomadic humans did not use fire in hunting and where higher rainfall made it more difficult for humans to track and hunt Devils.

When the English arrived they took little time in finishing off the job. From 1830 to 1909, a bounty was offered for all Tigers killed and thousands were slaughtered. Even when Tiger numbers were scarce, the bounty still remained. The official justification for the bounty was that the Tigers attacked sheep. Although this was true, it was never in any great numbers. The sheep killer charge was probably just the practical justification for an emotionally hatred for what the Tiger had come to symbolise. Like the nomadic humans, the Tiger symbolised the indigenous nuisance hindering attempts to conquer nature. Furthermore, like the incorrigible Convicts in their yellow and black uniforms, the Tiger symbolised that which couldn't be domesticated. In one, the Tiger represented everything that the English hated about Tasmania.

Eventually the Tigers became so rare that people stopped shooting them and instead they became a novelty in zoos. On the 7th of September 1936, the last known Tiger, died on a concrete floor, imprisoned in a wire cage. The day keeper had forgotten to lock him up for the night and he died of exposure.

"When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coast, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the Wolf in England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past..."John Gould 1863

 

Dingo and Thylacine comparison

 

 
Dingo
Thylacine
Height 50cm 58 cm
Length 117-124 cm 180 cm
Weight 10-20kg 15-30 kg
Reproduction
  • 4-5 puppies
  • Once a year
  • Gestation- 63 days
  • 2-4 puppies
  • Continous breeding
  • Puppies in pouch for three months
Hunting behaviour Largely solitary but sometimes hunts in small groups Largely solitary but might have hunted in pairs
Prey Carrion, lizards, small mammals Kangaroos, small marsupials, perhaps Dingos and Devils
Relationship with humans
  • Semi-domesticated
  • Symbiotic
  • Hunting partner
  • Companion
  • Wild
  • Pest
  • Competitor for food
  • Wild
  • Competitor for food
  • Pest

 

 

Environmental Issues

Environmental problems
The cultural basis of defining environmental problems

Indigenous environmentalism
Differences between Indigenous and non-indigenous land management

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

Bush fire prevention
To go native or exotic?