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The Tasmanian tiger was officially declared extinct in 1986, but there are some who still hold out hope.

Hosted by: Stefan Chin

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Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/10/science/thylacines-tasmanian-tigers-sightings.html
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.01.18.427214v1.abstract
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.171914
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsbl.2011.0364
https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00844.x
https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1998.tb00152.x
https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12029
https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cobi.13037
http://tetzoo.com/blog/2021/3/10/the-hunt-for-persisting-thylacines-an-interview

Images

https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/tasmanian-tiger-stalking-prey-extinct-carnivorous-marsupial-gm1249190657-364007100
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/close-up-view-of-a-pademelon-in-tasmania-australia-gm1187985355-335807241
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thylacinus.jpg
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/wolf-in-forest-gm1264374213-370302889
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/jumping-kitten-gm1194323910-340039220
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tasmanian_Tiger_(Thylacine)_Skeletons.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thylacine-chicken.png
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/dingo-gm450729657-24949894
https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/tasmanian-tiger-thylacinus-cynocephalus-illustration-1896-gm1185062390-333823865
https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/bigfoot-gm514854643-48377746
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/objects-11-gm173557913-85640
[INTRO]

(0:03) In Febuary 2021, the president of The Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia claimed online to have captured footage of living thylacines, aka Tasmanian tigers, aka marsupial wolves. And that was pretty bold considering there have been no confirmed sighting of these animals in over 80 years.

(0:21) According to experts in Tasmanian wildlife biology the animals in those images are most likely pademelons, a species of adorable wallaby-like creatures. And if you've never heard of them before, you're welcome.

(0:33) This is a familiar story—mistaken claims of thylacine sightings are a tradition going back nearly a century. People really want to find these animals alive.

(0:41) And it's hard to blame them. Thylacines are awesome, but unfortunately, they're probably gone for good. We know more than you might expect about thylacines since they lived alongside humans up until the early 1900s. We even have video footage.

(0:54) Scientifically known as thylacinus cynocephalus, thylacines were marsupials like kangaroos, koalas, and Tasmanian devils. Like other marsupials, their young developed in pouches.

(1:05) Though if you're imagining a cute little thylacine joey peeking out under mama's belly, think again. Like many quadrupedal marsupials, thylacine pouches faced backwards. So we're talking about babies peeking out right under the butt.

(1:18) But even among marsupials, thylacines were pretty unique. For one thing, they're the largest marsupial carnivores to live in modern times reaching up to 35 kilograms. And as their tiger and wolf nicknames imply, they had a few things in common with other mammalian carnivores. Their faces are famously wolf-like—a classic case of convergent evolution where two species that aren't closely related evolve very similar features.

(1:41) But whether they actually hunted like wolves is an open question. Where wolves have stiff forelimbs built for chasing prey,  thylacines were more flexible. Flexible forelimbs are better for ambushing prey like cats do, although without retractable claws, thylacines didn't quite have the same grappling ability. And their teeth are cat-like as well: mainly shaped for slicing, with few crushing surfaces like wolves have.

(2:03) So despite being called Tasmanian tigers and marsupial wolves, they might've had a unique hunting style all their own. Some research suggests they were specialists for hunting smaller prey, since their jaws don't seem strong enough to grapple with large animals.

(2:16) Although back in the day, they had a reputation for hunting sheep. Now whether that was true or not, it spelled bad news for the thylacines.

(2:23) See, we know from the fossil record that thylacines once lived on the Australian mainland, but they disappeared around 3,000 years ago. That may be due in part to humans introducing dingoes to the continent, which might have competed with thylacines for food.

(2:36) For a long time, thylacines lived on in Tasmania. But more trouble came in the 1800s to early 1900s after the arrival of European colonizers.

(2:45) Due to the thylacines' reputations as pests, they were heavily persecuted. The government even put bounties out on them, and hunters were happy to oblige. Other factors have been considered in their downfall, such as habitat loss and disease, but it's pretty clear that the human hunting had a major impact.

(3:00) The last known thylacine died in Tasmania's Hobart Zoo in 1936. And since then, there have been lots of alleged sighting of thylacines, but none of the evidence has been confirmed.

(3:11) Thylacines were officially declared extinct in 1986, but with so many alleged sightings, some people hold out hope that thylacines still might be out there.

(3:19) Studies have estimated, based on historical sightings and what we know of thylacine habitats, that they may have held on longer than we thought. Some models suggest they may have made it to the 1940s or 50s. But the general consensus among experts is that thylacines sadly are long gone.

(3:34) And yet, this hasn't stopped enthusiasts from looking. Even in recent years, alleged thylacine sightings are pretty common. Although again, none have turned up definitive evidence like clear video footage or an identifiable carcass.

(3:46) It could be that our hope gets the better of us. There's a psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias, where when you really want to find something, you're more likely to see it, even if it isn't there. And lots of people really want to see thylacines.

(3:59) Some think this could be hope born from guilt. If we can find living thylacines, it means that we humans didn't wipe them out after all. And others wonder if it's just that we long to see these weird and beautiful creatures in person.

(4:10) And still others think that some people get caught up in the excitement of trying to prove the unlikely existence of mysterious creatures. The same excitement that drives people to search for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

(4:21) Either way, it seems unlikely that we'll ever see living thylacines again. If we do, we need to balance our excitement with the need to protect them. If we don't, then this species will stand as a reminder that the actions of our species can have permanent consequences, no matter how much we wish they didn't.

(4:38) Thank you to our patron Firat Ceylan for asking about thylacines. And, thank you to this month's president of space Matthew Brant for your generous support.

 (4:47) We couldn't make SciShow without the help of all of our patrons, and we have lots of ways to say thanks, like appointing people to cosmic office. So if you want to get involved, you can check out patreon.com/scishow to learn more.

[OUTRO]