Long-Lost Tasmanian Tiger Remains Rediscovered in Museum

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, went extinct (thanks to you know who) in the mid-1930s. Native to the Australian mainland and the islands of Tasmania and New Guinea, the unusual marsupial was sometimes referred to as a Tasmanian wolf. It’s estimated that roughly 5,000 thylacines were living in Tasmania when Europeans first arrived. Due to excessive hunting, habitat destruction, and diseases introduced to them in quick succession, their numbers soon declined until they were gradually eradicated.

Tasmanian tiger
Photo: (Series relates to Australian Information Bureau and successor agencies), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

According to IFLScience, the remains of the last-known thylacine were sent to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) after its demise, but the curators didn’t label the animal properly because it had been caught illegally. “For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success,” thylacine expert Dr. Robert Paddle said in a statement. “No thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and so it was assumed its body had been discarded.”

Tasmanian tiger
Photo: Baker; E.J. Keller., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Animal Extinction

Paddle and Kathryn Medlock, Honorary Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at TMAG, were able to study an early museum taxidermist’s unpublished report dated between 1936-37 mentioning a thylacine. The reading prompted a review of specimens in the TMAG’s storage, which eventually revealed that they had in their possession the last thylacine in existence within their collection.
“The thylacine body had been skinned, and the disarticulated skeleton was positioned on a series of five cards to be included in the newly formed education collection overseen by museum science teacher Mr. A.W.G. Powell,” Medlock explained. “The skin was carefully tanned as a flat skin by the museum’s taxidermist, William Cunningham, which meant it could be easily transported and used as a demonstration specimen for school classes learning about Tasmanian marsupials.”

Tasmanian tiger
Photo: Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Carnivorous Marsupial

An odd-looking creature, the animals had heads resembling a wolf, the striped body of a tiger, and a pouch like a kangaroo. This carnivorous marsupial appeared similar to a dog, but it was more closely related to kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, and bandicoots. In recent months, there’s been talk of trying to resurrect the animals through genome sequencing via Colossal Biosciences out of Dallas, Texas, and an Australian scientist by the name of Andrew Pask. That lofty goal, however, is considered “fairy-tale science” at this point.

Tasmanian tiger
Photo: L. Shyamal, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

De-Extinction Efforts

Regardless, Colossal outlined a 10-step process that includes sequencing the animal’s genome through DNA extracted from a 108-year-old specimen. Pask, a professor of biosciences at the University of Melbourne and a member of the Colossal Scientific Advisory Board, is said to be leading the sequencing efforts. Considered the foremost expert on the thylacine genome, he heads the university’s TIGGR Lab (Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research).

In 2018, his team was the first to publish the genome sequence of the Tasmanian tiger, but it wasn’t without a hitch. “While the draft assembly of the thylacine genome contained the overwhelming majority of its genetic information, we were unable to piece everything back together,” noted the TIGGR Lab website. Clearing that hurdle will be the first real step in the monumental process toward de-extinction.


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