A wildlife expert has dismissed claims of a sighting of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, declaring the animals photographed were most likely pademelons.
Devotees of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, were abuzz this week with the potential new discovery that, if confirmed would have brought the animal back from the dead.
The Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia, an amateur not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the elusive creature, claimed it had photographic evidence of three thylacines living happily in north-east Tasmania.
In a video posted to YouTube, the group’s president, Neil Waters, said a camera trap had captured photos of a family of three thylacines, including a baby, which was “proof of breeding”.
But Nick Mooney, honorary curator of vertebrate zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery reviewed and assessed the material provided by Waters.
In a statement, TMAG said Mooney had “concluded that based on the physical characteristics shown in the photos provided, the animals are very unlikely to be thylacines, and most likely Tasmanian pademelons”.
“TMAG regularly receives requests for verification from members of the public who hope that the thylacine is still with us. However, sadly there have been no confirmed sightings documented of the thylacine since 1936.”
The thylacine is believed to have been extinct since 1936, when the last living thylacine, Benjamin, died in Hobart zoo. But unconfirmed sightings have regularly been reported for decades.
In 2017, scientists from James Cook University in Queensland also conducted a search for the marsupial after multiple “plausible” sightings.
A 2019 document from Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment revealed there had been eight claimed sightings of the thylacine between 2016 and 2019.
Forrest Galante, an American television host with the Animal Planet channel, added to the earlier hype when he shared the video about the potential “wildlife rediscovery of the century” on Twitter.
Mooney’s conclusion will come as a blow to thylacine enthusiasts who were convinced they finally had the evidence they needed.
In his announcement video, Waters said he and the “committee” of the thylacine group had discovered the photographs from a camera in north-east Tasmania.
“The last 10 days, I’ve probably been acting a bit weird to everybody in the group and online,” Waters said. “That’s because when I was checking the SD cards I found some photos that were pretty damn good.
“We believe that the first image is the mum, we know the second image is the baby, because it’s so tiny, and the third image is the dad.”
Waters said the picture of the supposed mother and father “are ambiguous”, but that the baby was definitely a thylacine.
“The baby is not ambiguous, the baby has stripes, a stiff tail, the hock, the coarse hair, it’s the right colour, it’s a quadruped, stocky, and it’s got the right shaped ears,” he said.
“Looking at the baby, not only we do we have a family walking through the bush but we have proof of breeding.”
Waters said this would put the “thylacine in a much stronger position than it’s been in for the last 30-something years” – referring to the 1990s for some reason.
He signed off: “Congratulations everyone. We’ve done it, cheers!”
Waters told Hlcarpenter.com Australia in 2016 that he saw a thylacine in 2014 when he was doing work on his house and it walked past his bedroom window.
In 2018, two people from Western Australia reported seeing a thylacine while visiting Tasmania, according to the state environment department’s report.
“The animal walked from the right hand side of the road … turned and looked at the vehicle a couple of times,” it said. “It was in clear view for 12-15 seconds.
“The animal had a stiff and firm tail, that was thick at the base. It had stripes down its back. It was the size of a large Kelpie (bigger than a fox, smaller than a German shepherd).
“The animal was calm and did not act scared at all. Both are 100% certain that the animal they saw was a thylacine. It appeared to be in good condition.”