At Jewell Cave in the Margaret River region in south-west Western Australia, fossil remains of Tasmanian tigers have been found indicating their presence about 3000 years ago, a long way from Tasmania. A special display at Jewell Cave presented the story of this unique species, which has come to symbolise the devastating impact of European settlement and development on natural Australian ecosystems.
But the final panel of the display contained a very distressing account of the last Thylacine. While it is widely known that the last specimen died in captivity in Tasmania in 1936, it is not commonly related that the Thylacine was living in a private zoo which was in financial difficulties and the animal died of lack of care, from neglect, cold and hunger. This sad story encapsulates the sorry history of extinctions in Australia, where so many species have disappeared owing to destruction of critical habitat and competition with human settlement and development.
The last Thylacine, photographed in Beaumaris Zoo in 1933 (photo: Wickimedia Commons)
However, there is a positive footnote to the story, as Prof Mike Archer of the University of Sydney announced recently that he believes it will be possible to reverse the extinction of the Thylacine by cloning DNA material. He argues that we should try to do this, since humans caused the extinction of this species by destruction of animals and their habitat.
It would be extraordinary if we could see a living Thylacine in Australia again, a small atonement for past losses in our priceless biodiversity, and a potent symbol for working to conserve what remains of our unique Australian ecosystems for our future.