The last thylacine died in captivity in a now-defunct Hobart Zoo 70 years ago today. Popularly known as the Tasmanian Tiger, it was the top carnivore in the island’s ecosystem, so it was persecuted to death in less than 150 years of European settlement.
A scavenger rather than an aggressive predator, the shy and elusive thylacine had the undeserved reputation of preying on livestock; its habitat was soon destroyed by logging, damming and farming and a government bounty finished the job.
Many Tasmanians believe that somehow the thylacine lives on in remote and impenetrable areas in the south-west of the island, but it is more likely that it now exists only in the imagination of a few taciturn and obsessive searchers.
Having seen off the thylacine, Tasmania’s government continues to promote the relentless and not particularly profitable destruction of old growth forests, which are replaced by monoculture timber plantations in which wildlife is poisoned under official permit.
But there must be some residual guilt in the collective consciousness. The government’s emblem is, of all things, the thylacine, a logo referred to by bureaucrats as the Dead Dog. Tasmania is probably the only political entity which identifies itself with an extinct animal, and there is a growing uneasy feeling that if we don’t stop wrecking and polluting the place, we’ll go the way of the thylacine ourselves. FB