Monday, September 05, 2005
Tasmanian Tiger - Science fiction or fact?
While surfing thru numerous boreing TV channels last night, i came across a special documentary on the fascinating but now extinct 'Tasmanian Tiger' also known as 'Thylacine' on Animal Planet. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial once common throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea and south to Tasmania. In recent times it was confined to Tasmania where its presence has not been established conclusively for more than fifty years. The documentary covered loads of interesting topics surrounding the species, such as the physical appreance, the reason for extinction, recent sightings, debate on cloning of the animal.

Here is a brief insight on this facinating animal.

Nature & Physical Appreance
The thylacine looked like a large, long dog, with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and a big head. Its scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means pouched dog with a wolf's head. Fully grown it measured about 180 cm (6 ft) from nose to tail tip, stood about 58 cm (2 ft) high at the shoulder and weighed up to 30 kg. The short, soft fur was brown except for 13 - 20 dark brown-black stripes that extended from the base of the tail to almost the shoulders. The stiff tail became thicker towards the base and appeared to merge with the body. The thylacine was shy and secretive and always avoided contact with humans. Despite its common name, 'tiger' it had a quiet, nervous temperament compared to its little cousin, the
Tasmanian devil.

Its jaws could open 120 degrees, wider than any other known mammal. They carried their young in pouches as do other marsupials like the kangaroo and the koala.

Reason for Extinction
The arrival of European settlers marked the start of a tragic period of conflict that led to the thylacine's extinction. The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and thylacines. Farmers blamed the tigers for livestock losses. Development of cultivated land also interfered with the animal's habitat. A bounty was placed on the creatures and thousands of them were killed. By the time the Australian government moved to protect the tigers, it was too late. The last known captive Thylacine, named Benjamin, died in the Hobart Zoo on Sept. 7, 1936.

1830 Van Diemens Land Co. introduced a thylacine bounties.
1888 Tasmanian Parliament placed a price of $1 on thylacine's head.
1909 Government bounty scheme terminated. 2184 bounties paid.
1910 Thylacines rare -- sought by zoos around the world.
1926 London Zoo bought its last thylacine for $150.
1933 Last thylacine captured, Florentine Valley, sold Hobart Zoo.
1936 World's last captive thylacine died in Hobart Zoo, ( 7/9/36).
1936 Tasmanian tiger added to the list of protected Wildlife.
1986 Thylacine declared extinct by international standards.

Recent Sightings
Since 1936, no conclusive evidence of a thylacine has been found. However, the incidence of reported thylacine sightings has continued. Most sightings occur at night, in the north of the Tasmanian State, in or near areas where suitable habitat is still available. Although the species is now considered to be 'probably extinct', these sightings provide some hope that the thylacine may still exist. There have been hundreds of sightings since 1936, many of which may have been clear cases of misidentification. However, in a detailed study of sightings between 1934 and 1980, concluded that of a total of 320 sightings, just under half could be considered good sightings. Nonetheless, all sightings have remained inconclusive.

Here is a website by Buck and Joan Emberg, who are firm believers of exsistence of the 'Tasmanian Tiger' after their very own encounter with so-called extinct animal. They have detailed listing and information of many people who have claimed to seeing the animal. Most recent sighting was in 1990.

The Cloning Debate
The thylacine is the only mammal to have (possibly) become extinct in Tasmania since European settlement. With the recent discovery last year of a well-preserved Tasmanian tiger pup in a jar of alcohol at the Australian Museum, scientists continue to believe there is a possibility of cloning the species back to life through DNA extraction. The cloning project was a joint venture between the Australian Museum and the NSW government.

In May, after two years of research, the scientists made a major breakthrough in the cloning project by successfully replicating the tiger genes using a process called PCR. However the probability of success was slim, possibly between 4 and 10 percent. But despite that, the project was going ahead.

On the other side, many were skeptical of such "Frankenstein science" and were concerned with the ethical questions of cloning and playing the "role of God." Many believed that the DNA was unlikely to be perfectly preserved and that no living creature is a close enough relative for a surrogate birth to be successful.

Some also argued that Thylacine specimens are so valuable that work should not be commenced without extensive consultation with both internal and external scientists and collection managers. Work should only be permitted after thorough consideration of the status of the pup as museum object and the scientific merit of any proposal to work on it. It could be argued (to take an extreme position) that the Museum's pup is so valuable as an object that it should not be damaged even to revive a species.

However, to carry out the Australian museum's Jurassic Park-style plan, scientists faced major financial hurdles. According to an Australian newspaper report, only $150,000 from government donations and private sources has been raised since 1999. It will take much more than that for such an ambitious project to get off the ground.

Finally in Feb'2005,
The museum abandoned its cloning bid, it said the quality of the DNA had been too degraded to work with.

Recent Update
Three months after the Australian Museum shelved plans to clone the Tasmanian tiger,
a group of universities and a research institute are planning to revive the project. Mike Archer, dean of science at the University of New South Wales, was quoted as saying that researchers from his state and Victoria were likely to join the program, which involves recovering DNA from a pup preserved in 1866.

Source : Australian Museum Online.

ps..
here is a video footage of the 'Tasmanian Tiger' dated back to 1936.
posted at 9/05/2005 02:26:00 PM | comments (3) | permalink

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting.
     — Anonymous Rabbi, at 9/05/2005 07:52:00 PM 

  2. Great stuff. Very informative

    Linked on DesiPundit
     — Anonymous Vulturo, at 9/05/2005 09:40:00 PM 

  3. Excellent text. I also had recently made a post about the tasmanian tiger and its sad history.
     — Blogger Papa Ratzi, at 12/14/2005 08:18:00 AM 

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