Did Tasmanian Tiger survive extinction until 1950s?
University of Adelaide
June 27, 2007
Dr Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA is extracting ancient DNA from animal droppings found in Tasmania in the late 1950s and â60s, which have been preserved in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
"The scats (droppings) were found by Eric Guiler, Australia's last real thylacine expert, who said he thought it more probable they came from the Tasmanian Tiger rather than a dog, Tasmanian Devil or quoll," Dr Austin said.
The Tasmanian Tiger, or thylacine, was widespread in Tasmania when European settlers arrived in 1803. Resembling a large, long dog with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and big head, the thylacine was the world's largest marsupial carnivore at the time of its extinction in 1936 when the last one in captivity died in Hobart Zoo.
Dr Jeremy Austin and a mounted specimen of the Tasmanian Tiger. Image courtesy of the University of Adelaide.
Dr Austin is also extracting DNA from bones of both the Tasmanian Tiger and Tasmanian Devil found on mainland Australia. Scientists believe the Tiger lived on the mainland 2000 years ago and the Devil 500 years ago.
"The DNA may be able to reveal they were different species to the Tasmanian animals, although it's unlikely. It's only been 10,000 years since Bass Strait flooded and Tasmania was separated from the mainland. That's not a long period of time in evolutionary terms.
"The main reason people think they may have been different species is that the Tasmanian Tiger was much bigger than its mainland cousins. That's not surprising given the climate because the colder the environment, the larger the animal."
Dr Austin is working in collaboration with Oliver Berry from the University of Western Australia, another zoologist who is extracting ancient DNA from scats in Tasmania to find evidence of foxes.
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