The alleged footage of a thylacine

By Peter Meredith 7 September 2017
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The footage was released just before Threatened Species Day, which marks the death of the last thylacine 81 years ago.

THE BOOTH Richardson Tiger Team (BRTT)— a group dedicated to tracking down the long extinct thylacine,  have released footage they shot last November of what they say depicts the Tassie tiger. But experts were quick to cast doubt, arguing that it was more likely to be a spotted quoll.

News of the footage came just before today’s celebrations of Threatened Species Day, which marks the death of the last thylacine, which died in captivity in Hobart Zoo 81 years ago. Yet despite the animals extinction so many years ago it hasn’t stopped people from being hopeful.

Why is the search for the Tasmanian tiger an endless quest?

People who report sightings come from all walks of life and many have little prior knowledge of the creature they say they’ve seen. Few seem to have an ulterior motive for making a false report, such as a desire for fame, money or to perpetrate a successful hoax. They genuinely believe they saw a Tasmanian tiger.

Aside from these many one-off witnesses, there are a number of dedicated tiger-seekers, both in Tasmania and on the mainland, who spend a lot of money and time searching for what has become one of the world’s legendary creatures. A proportion of these can be said to be ‘true believers’ who have absolutely no doubt the tiger is alive. Some say they have seen it; others believe they have been close, either because they have smelt its pungent scent or heard its unusual calls. All hope that incontrovertible proof of the tiger’s continued existence will one day surface. And the best proof would be a live animal.

So, are they unquestionably extinct? Or might a few be holding out in remote bushland somewhere? Unfortunately, despite the hopes, dreams and prodigious efforts of a surprising number of people, there’s not a shred of conclusive proof of this possibility – no convincing photographs or video, no verifiable footprints and no roadkills.

Tammy Gordon, the collection officer at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston and co-author of the book Tasmanian Tiger: Precious Little Remains, says no thylacine has been brought to the museum in the past 80 years. “The museum has a file of sightings dating from the 1930s, but in the 30 years that I have been here I have not seen anything I would consider evidence.”

And yet the search goes on. Why? Are tiger-hunters deluding themselves? Are the true believers too starry-eyed to face the facts? What drives them? Some searchers may have quite basic motives, such as a desire for fame, notoriety or fortune. Others say they love the bush and that looking for the thylacine gives them a good excuse to be in it.

But a number raise more complex issues. “By searching for this animal I feel I’m honouring its existence,” says Mike Williams, who’s been searching for thylacines in Tasmania since the early 2000s. “We treated it savagely, we did horrific things to it, but if we find it we’ll know we haven’t destroyed it and could say we humans aren’t as bad as we thought we were. It would be a form of redemption.”

Eric Schwarz, a senior wildlife management officer in Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, agrees. “There’s definitely an element of guilt in this,” he says. “I think people hope that a wrong will be righted by the knowledge that we didn’t exterminate it. It’s almost as if we’d be exonerated.”