Currently there is a debate about the correct color for the thylacine, some arguing that the traditional lighter sand yellow representation is incorrect and is a result of long faded museum specimens. Robert Paddle in his book “The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine”, put forward the idea that they in fact varied not just in color but size as well based upon the area that they were located. Coastal tigers being larger then their inland cousins and the tigers in the south west being smaller and of a much more gray color (as above). Some male tigers were reported as being exceptionally large, up to 8ft from nose to tail! The more standard size being around 51/2 ft. I did come across a replica scull that was much bigger then the one that I have in my possession and the ones that I have seen in the museum examples. The owner of the scull assured me it was to scale.
This localization of size and color results from varied diet and climate, the south west being wetter and with less game availability the other regions. We can never be sure of this without the identification of specimens. My own view is that Paddle may in fact be correct and that if we are able to image a tiger it is more likely to be in the south west and may well look like the above image.
Historically in passed attempts to capture a live thylacine, traps have been used and bated using a verity methods, from internal organs spread around an area to road roadkill bait. Of course we are not attempting to physically capture any animal or even bait them. An effective common decoy used in the USA for predators such as Bob cats and Coyotes is a simple feather on a stick. The question was would such a decoy work on a carnivorous marsupial? As you can see from the above image a tiger quoll found this one very interesting and hung around this decoy for over a month! A second decoy was destroyed within a few days, the chewed-up remains spread around the base of the camera. The camera did not capture the culprit as its positioning had been moved to just above the decoy and its backup battery pack cable was unplugged and chewed. It was most probably the result of a devil as lot of devil activity was captured by another camera near to it. Clearly from the results the decoys had worked though without being scented they will not attract any animal beyond the immediate area.
At dawn we boarded our helicopter and headed out from Launceston towards the west coast south of Macquarie Harbor and along the south west conservation area (see map above). This remote inaccessible coastline features numerous bays and coves.
Animal prints of all sizes could be clearly seen on many of the beaches. Historically thylacines enjoyed hunting along the north west coast beaches. Have a small number maintained a presence along the inaccessible south west coast beaches unseen from human eyes?
Well, all went well with our return trip. We packed a lot of items into our two week itinerary, probably to much. Not least of which was the collection of the 18 cameras. I can confirm we did collect all 18 cameras. Of the 18, two it seems had malfunctioned but the rest had worked, many were still working and imaging after the six month period. While there is still a lot of data to process I can say that the average image count of most cameras is approx 300 but two seem to have been in high fauna traffic areas and have many thousands of images and videos. The two time-lapse cameras deployed have approx 3 months of data to sift through, this is equal to 100,000s of images.
We do have some amazing Tasmanian wildlife images covering all the major marsupials of the region. We have also surprisingly captured images of quite a number of feral domestic cats. So far we have come across one image from the Waratah, Arthur river area that is very unusual. I am consulting with parks and wildlife before I post or comment on it. This camera was in he same region of the intense musk smell we detected on our first visit.
We did indeed charter a helicopter to explore the south west coast and more. I will produce a report on this soon. I also utilized the use of a drone that I brought with me. The weather was uncharacteristically warm and dry for this time of year. Many of the seasonal creeks that were running six months ago were dry and muddy. This enabled the search and success in finding foot prints and more scat evidence. This trip we drove over 2000 km and hiked many miles, we are battered and bruised, jet lagged but very happy with how it all went.
Historically the beaches and coastline of Tasmania, frequented by food sources such as paddy melons and wallabies, were a favored thylacine hunting ground. Today of course many such areas are frequented by holiday makers from both Tasmania and the Australian mainland.
For a number of years passing lobster fisherman have reported possible thylacine sightings along the remote west coast of Tasmania. The coastline south of Macquarie harbor, devoid of roads, tracks and infrastructure, remains unchanged and inaccessible. Any land expedition would require considerable resources and time with mountain ranges and impassable rivers just a few of the obstacles to content with. A population of thylacines could more easily reside in this area and remain undetected and unmolested by people. Any serious search for the thylacine cannot ignore this area. As part of our return expedition we have now chartered a helicopter and will carryout a dawn patrol, utilizing the latest thermal imaging cameras along this coastal region. Lets hope the weather hold as we approach the tassy winter.
We have just confirmed our return to Tassy. We will be flying into Launceston in early March. The main mission of this trip is to recover the cameras that have been operating (hopefully) for the last six months. The benefit of leaving them for this amount of time is that the locations should not have been compromised by human intrusion. It is quite clear to us that any remaining Thylacines will not tolerate residing in the same areas as human activity, so that the longer an area is vacated by such activity, the better.
With the amount of equipment left in the field we should have a lot of data to sift though and analyze. We will of course be looking for any physical evidence of Thylacine activity in the recovery areas.
Look for more details and updates here as we approach March.
We try and fit animals into categories we are familiar with, the thlacine is no exception, it has been called a wolf or more canine then wolf and/or cat like. The reality is it is none of these, it is a carnivorous marsupial unique to itself.
This rare photography is interesting as it shows a tiger from the rear. Its powerful rear legs are unlike anything outside of the marsupial family, given rise to its gait when moving fast. What is also interesting in the image is the scat. There has been a lot of argument on what does thylacines scat look like? Here we can get some idea, though we have to take into account the diet of a captured animal verses one in the wild. Its a big pile. Scat sampling has been used in the passed by government expeditions as a way of determining whether the tiger is still roaming Tasmania. It is hoped that a sample will contain a hair from the animal grooming itself. The problem with this method becomes quickly apparent when in the field, Tasmania is covered in marsupial poop. So then we try and narrow down the samples, devils contain bone fur/hair as they consume everything. It is believed that tigers did not eat bones, so we can dismiss a bony poop. A wombats scat is very easy to id, once you have seen the grassy pack you can never mistake it. Wallabies, pademelons can also be recognized, then it rains and prospective samples turn into mushy piles, add to this wild hog, feral dogs, quolls, boggy marsh and it becomes far from easy. Every large pile becomes a prospective sample.