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March 02, 2005

thylacines

My friend Derek passes along a clip regarding a possible thylacine sighting. The thylacine, a marsupial carnivore native to Tasmania that once ranged as far north as New Guinea, has been considered extinct since the last one died in the Hobart Zoo in the 1930s. Here's some re-mastered films of thylacines in that zoo, including a lot of footage of "Ben," the last (known) living thylacine, a female despite the name.

Thylacines strongly resembled dogs - one common name for them was "Tasmanian wolf" - but they were no more closely related to dogs than are opossums or kangaroos. As mentioned above, they were marsupials. They bore non-viable live young that crawled to an external pouch to suckle until ready to face the outside world. The resemblance to dogs is an example of convergent evolution: certain body forms work well for certain tasks. If you're a cursorial predator of small animals, a dog-like body is a good thing to have, whether you're a thylacine, a wolf, or a hyena.

Watching those films makes me feel sick to my stomach. They were beautiful animals, graceful and social and sleek. I feel cheated that I'll never get to see one. It's one thing to wish you could see a live Triceratops or Uintathere: those left a long time ago, and it seems a mild shame that we can't watch them walk across the plains.

But thylacines winked out only yesterday. Nephew Liam is half Australian: his great grandparents may have had the opportunity to see Ben in the Hobart Zoo. My father was alive when Ben died.

In a sense, it doesn't matter if the German tourists referred to in the first link above saw a living thylacine or not. It doesn't matter if I see one. Thylacine habitat is gone, and if there are still a couple out in the Tassie bush only heroic measures will save the species. Gene bnks are for crop plants: species are nothing without their habitat.

Still I would have liked to have said goodbye. I was robbed.

Posted by Chris Clarke at March 2, 2005 05:17 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

A thylacine cloning project/investigation:

http://www.amonline.net.au/thylacine/happening.htm

Posted by: Vicki at March 3, 2005 11:34 AM
decorative line of bighorn petroglyphs