The thylacine, also known with the names of marsupial wolf, the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, is an extinct marsupial carnivore that lived in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. It became extinct during the first half of the twentieth century.
The thylacine was a alpha predator as it was placed at the apex of the food chain, having no predator in nature. After its extinction in Australia, it survived in Tasmania until the 1930s. While it looks like a dog, especially seeing the shape of the skull, the thylacine as marsupial was only very distantly related to these animals, which resembled a admirable phenomenon of convergent evolution. Its closest relatives were the Tasmanian devil and numbat.
It probably disappeared in Australia already before the arrival of European settlers. The thylacine, however, survived in Tasmania. Thanks to the presence of a large number of well-preserved remains, the thylacine, however, is one of the candidate species for cloning.
The data on the size of these animals are quite variable, due to the fact that most of the preserved specimens are puppies and only have skeletons and photographs in black and white to extrapolate the data. The skull of the thylacine resembled strikingly to that of canids, and even more specifically to that of a fox. This similarity was not due to a real kinship between the two animals, but rather a phenomenon of evolutionary convergence.
On the back of the back there was tabby stripes. An Aboriginal legend says that at the dawn of time, the thylacine was devoid of dorsal streaks.
Little is known regarding the habits of the thylacine. Most of the data have been obtained from animals in captivity or anecdotal evidence of the settlers, dating back mostly to the first half of the twentieth century, which sometimes are also atypical as most of the sightings were made during the day. Probably the thylacine was crepuscular and nocturnal, which rested during the day in hollow trees or rocks. During night they tended to move to grassland or bushy areas.
All those who have left evidence on the behavior of the thylacine define it as an extremely shy and reserved animal, with a strong tendency to avoid contact with the man, despite showing occasional curiosity. Little is known about the social habits of the thylacine as most of the sightings relate to individual animals in captivity.
Despite studies on preserved specimens always provide more clues on the thylacine type of diet, it remains hotly debated in the scientific community. Among the prey of the thylacine probably they included kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and other small vertebrates, including even reptiles and birds. Some scholars have suggested that among the possible prey of this animal there was also the Tasmanian emus and that the extinction of Tasmanian emu in the mid-nineteenth century had started the fatal decline of the marsupial wolf population.
Among the European settlers the thylacine enjoyed the sad reputation as a relentless predator of poultry and flocks, particularly sensitive to the smell of blood. Initially considered a species endemic of Tasmania, based on cave paintings, it was assumed that the distribution area of the thylacine, at least up to prehistoric times, extended to Australia and New Guinea. The irrefutable proof of the existence of this animal in Australia until relatively recently was the discovery of a mummified carcass of thylacine in a cave in the Nullarbor plain in 1990, dated to about 3300 years ago.
It is thought that the thylacine lived in Australia preferably by the dry forests of eucalyptus, bushy areas and grasslands, while Tasmanian populations favored the lands coastal, choices later also of the European settlers to graze cattle.
The thylacine was present in Aboriginal art, as depicted in numerous rock paintings scattered around Australia dating back to 3,000 years ago. When Europeans discovered the island-continent, the marsupial wolf was gone long. It was not until 1642, with the discovery of Tasmania by Abel Tasman, news spread of imprints of a strange beast with legs similar to a tiger.
An Aboriginal rock painting was found at Ubirr in Kakadu National Park from prehistoric times. It is estimated that the thylacine has almost completely disappeared from Australia at least 2000 years ago, and probably earlier from New Guinea.
There are several groups of fans and organizations, or even individuals, who continue to look for any examples of thylacine still living in the most remote areas of Tasmania, refusing to resign themselves to an eventual extinction and exchanging opinions and any findings on special forums. With the advent of the digital era, began to appear in circulation numerous photos and videos, as well as numerous sightings, some of which have enjoyed great media coverage at least at home.
In the first video of a ten second shot in South Australia in 1973, the animal cannot be identified with certainty because of the poor quality of the image. The thylacine is often used as a symbol of Tasmania, including logos and emblems. The thylacine is also the mascot of the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian cricket team and is present in the coat of arms of the submarine of the Royal Australian Navy HMAS Dechaineux.
The thylacine has also appeared on stamps from Australia, Equatorial Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia.