Sydney, Australia, Dec 5 (EFE).- The remains of the last Tasmanian tiger were kept in a museum cupboard, their significance only realized 85 years after they were thought to have disappeared.
The last Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), or thylacine, was an elderly female captured by a hunter in the Florentine Valley on the island of Tasmania and sold to the state capital zoo in May 1936 where it died four months later. It was then transferred to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).
“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success, as no thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and so it was assumed its body had been discarded,” said researcher Robert Paddle in a TMAG statement.
Paddle and TMAG honorary curator of vertebrate zoology Kathryn Medlock, who will publish their find this week in “Australian Zoologist,” discovered that the Tasmanian tiger’s remains did arrive at TMAG in 1936 – and was not properly recorded – thanks to an unpublished museum taxidermist’s report dated 1936/37 that mentioned a Tasmanian tiger worked on that year.
This led to a review of all the Tasmanian tiger skins and skeletons in the TMAG collection.
The researchers discovered that the disarticulated skeleton had been positioned on a series of cards to be included in an education collection and that the Tasmanian tiger’s coat was used in traveling exhibitions.
“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,” said Medlock.
The thylacine, a marsupial with stripes across its lower back, once lived on mainland Australia and the island of New Guinea, although it disappeared from those places about 3,000 years ago due to climate change.
The island of Tasmania was the only place where the species survived, but its extinction accelerated with the 18th century arrival of Europeans who launched an intense hunting campaign between 1830 and 1909, encouraged by bounties to end with this predator that ate cattle.
Despite the fact that Tasmanian tigers became extinct 85 years ago when the last specimen died at the Hobart zoo, the species was only officially declared extinct in the 1980s. EFE