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The Tale of the Tasmanian Tiger

More than 60 years ago, in a chain-link cage at the Hobart Zoo, in Australia, a creature with a five foot long, low dog-like body died. Its death marked the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger.

Maybe.

Ever since that specimen died in captivity, there have been sporadic but unconfirmed reports of tigers being sighted in the wilds near their old habitats. In 1995, a park ranger spotted what looked like a Tasmanian Tiger in the Pyengana region of Tasmania. Two years later, villagers in two remote mountain towns on the island of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, reported a pack of six or seven of the creatures were attacking the villager's chickens and pigs.

A hundred years ago the tigers (which are not cats at all, but marsupial wolves) were common on the Island of Tasmania. In the distant past they also populated the continent of Australia, and perhaps many of the surrounding islands, but became extinct about 2000 years ago as they were pushed out by competing animals.

They carried their young in pouches as do other marsupials like the kangaroo and the koala. They also sported a long, heavy, kangaroo-like tail. The name "tiger" comes from dark strips that ran across the flanks of the creature's yellow-brown fur. The animals were also referred to as Tasmanian Wolves, or thylacines (their scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalus).

The tigers' primary food source were small mammals like wallabies, kangaroos and rats. The tiger's feet left a five toed print which is similar, but easily distinguished from a dog's. Dogs have only four toes. While the creatures looked fierce because of their large heads and wide jaws (opening larger than that of any other mammal), they were actually shy and retiring. The largest of them grew six feet long, including the tail, and they stood two feet high at the shoulder.

At the end of the 19th century as humans moved into the tiger's territories, conflicts arose. Farmers blamed the tigers for livestock losses. Development of cultivated land also interfered with the animal's habitat. A bounty was placed on the creatures and thousands of them were killed. By the time the Australian government moved to protect the tigers, it was too late.

Most of the recent reports of Tasmanian Tigers come from the Island of Tasmania, a state of Australia, which lies just south of the eastern portion of the continent. Tasmania covers 26,383 square miles and about a half-million people live there. There are still wild sections where the creature could be hiding.

In 1995 the government launched an investigation to try and find the tiger. Also, many amateur cryptozoologists have searched for the animals. So far, if the tigers are still alive, they have evaded science's eyes.

Copyright Lee Krystek 1998. All Rights Reserved.