Thylacinus cynocephalus, Greek for "dog-headed pouched one"
was the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times
Native to continental Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, thylacine is thought to
have become extinct in the 20th century (1936). In Australia, intensive hunting
encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributory
factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment
into its habitat. Also, the animals limited diet would have made it more vulnerable to
This strange marsupial carnivore was thought to kill sheep, and with
sheep farming as the backbone of the Australian economy, the government set
up a bounty scheme to exterminate the species. A new study reported in the Journal
of Zoology revealed that the marsupial's jaws were too weak to snare a
struggling adult sheep.
"We scanned the skull and then used the same software on it that you would
use in engineering, to investigate the stresses on man-made structures, such as
bridges and aircraft wings," explained Dr Wroe of the University of New South Wales.
"If a large carnivore - like a big cat for example - wants to take down a big prey
item, it has to clamp down on its throat and suffocate it," said Dr Wroe,
"A thylacine wouldn't have been capable of this."
"They would need to hunt a lot of small animals to survive," explained land
researcher Marie Attard also from UNSW in Sydney.
"So just small disturbances to the ecosystem - such as those resulting from
the way European settlers altered the land - would have reduced their odds
"It was given a really poor reputation in its day - accused of being a vicious, wasteful
sheep killer," said Attard.
By the end of the 19th century, Tasmania was the last refuge for a few
Footage of Ben, the last living thylacine in Hobart Zoo, 1928
#3 out of 5 silent films documented in Hobart Zoo, Australia