Australian Scientists to Study Possibility of Surviving Thylacines

An artist's rendition of thylacines. (Wikipedia Commons: John Gould)

An artist's rendition of thylacines. (Wikipedia Commons: John Gould)

Professor Bill Laurence and Dr. Sandra Abell of James Cook University plan to study the possibility of surviving thylacines on Cape York in Australia.  The scientists propose to place 50 camera traps at select survey sites in the region to gather evidence of survival.  Thylacines, or Tasmanian Tigers, have thought to be extinct on the Australian mainland since prior to the arrival of Europeans, although the last one living in captivity died in the 1930s.  

Dr. Abell attributes her interest in thylacines to having heard the eyewitness testimony of former tourism operator Brian Hobbs.  In 1983, Hobbs was camping with a friend when suddenly his German Shepherd was startled by something in the middle of the night.  Upon investigation, he saw several silent, curious, dog-shaped creatures investigating the campsite.

"These animals, I've never seen anything like them before in my life," said Hobbs.  "They were dog-shaped — I had a shepherd with me so I certainly know what dogs are about — and in the spotlight I could see they were tan in color and they had stripes on their sides."

Professor Bill Laurence and Dr. Sandra Abell. (ABC Far North: Mark Rigby)

Professor Bill Laurence and Dr. Sandra Abell. (ABC Far North: Mark Rigby)

Professor Laurence and Dr. Abell don't plan on making the sites of their study known, for fear of human interference.

"We're not worried too much about legitimate scientists doing that, but we're a little worried about what you might call the 'yobbo effect' — where somebody hears about it and then wants to go and shoot one of these things," said Professor Laurance.

The two scientists wish to gather enough data to warrant further investigation, and with the area's declining ecology, time is of the essence.

"It's really important to get all the facts together and there are a lot of different things we need to be sure of before we spend the resources to actually go out and look for something," said Dr. Abell.  

"We have had declines in our mammals all through Cape York and through Australia, so my concern is that if we leave it too much longer to just go and have a look then we could actually miss out on seeing something."

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