Monday, November 18, 2013

The Thylacine is out there…

It's supposedly been dead for 77 years....

So I'm back from Tasmania. A wonderfully vast and varied place, and I've never seen so many hawthorn trees in my life. It’s the main European tree you see in the green fields and hedgerows for miles when you drive west from Launceston.

I'm not going to reveal whereabouts we were for that fortnight, but we did spend time in a rainforest. It was wet, as I feared, and I got a sore throat - I was certain it was the damp air - I did not get cold in my trusty sleeping bag. 

But there was a strange air to the place - maybe it was because I was where the thylacine was king predator and so definite in its existence, unlike the mainland. Also when we stood in positions where it had been seen only a few years ago, the idea of it haunted us - so near yet so far. For those obsessed with the creature, we sure did feel strange being there. 

The CFZ's logo
One example was the Hans Naarding sighting of 1982 – On a night of heavy rain, field ranger Hans Naading, sleeping in his car at a 3 way crossroads near Togani awoke and scanned the surrounds with a spotlight and the beam came to rest on a large Thylacine standing 6 to 7 metres from the car. Instead of reaching for his camera, he took notes of its appearance – full grown male with 12 stripes on a sandy coat. Eye reflection was yellow. As he reached for his camera, he disturbed it and it moved away in the undergrowth. It left a strange scent behind.
 Three to four years after this sighting, the animal was declared extinct, 50 years after the last one died in captivity in Hobart Zoo. We could take that ‘extinct’ thing back and make it ‘endangered.’ But we have no proof to do that yet. No one has. Sightings are not enough - it needs to be hard proof. With the existence of Tasmanian Devils cleaning tiger carcass evidence, there is not much chance of that.
We went to that Togani crossroads. It has apparently changed in look since then, the forest surrounding it was old growth at the time of the sighting, but is now new growth, maybe even denser than ever. I remember us standing there thinking about that night in 1982 and only wishing that we could have been there, and hoping that the animal would again come out for us to see.
We also visited a location where a sighting occurred in only 2011, the most recent sighting we collected from people we had met. We walked down the dirt road, again hoping for it to reappear and listening for its ‘yip’ call. With 18 months passed, you feel too late for such viewings. 

I think that if I ever saw one, in Tasmania, or even on the mainland, then it would not be a myth to me personally anymore. The black and white footage we see today won’t be my only view of the movements of this animal – I would have another view of it – my own from my sighting. The myth of it being dead and gone would disappear and that sighting would haunt me forever, coupled with a convinced belief of its present existence. I believe it is still out there, sighting or not. There have been thousands of sightings of it in Tasmania and the mainland combined, and certainly there is many more unrecorded sightings not reported by Tasmanian locals who are blasé about it, and don’t appear to care what this actually means. If EVERYONE who had seen one reported it, we would be inundated with reports, too many to ignore, and too many to think that the word ‘extinct’ combined with the words ‘Tassie tiger’ is the biggest piece of bollocks ever.
I think this footage could be a thylacine. It certainly has the look of the animal, but does it have the movement of it? If you’ve ever seen the see-saw way a Tasmanian Devil runs, you’ll see how a Thylacine runs. Well, the Devil IS his scavenger cousin… 

The Roast Chicken sighting
The ‘Tigerman,’ who is the author of this downloadable book, had a double sighting in 2002 as mentioned here, but I can tell you more about it now – one day, on his search for the elusive creature, he drove down a road to see a young thylacine crossing in front of him. The next day he went back to the same location with a roast chicken he had purchased. To lure the thylacine out, he placed the chicken on the road. As he went to wash his hands of chicken fat from a creek by the road, he returned to find a mature thylacine sniffing at the chicken. It saw him and ran away.
During the trip, we made many jokes about roast chickens. Also, that may have been the first time ever that someone who was actually looking for the thylacine, saw a thylacine. Mostly they are seen when people don’t expect them, like so many other sightings of things… that and nonchalant Tasmanians often have several sightings before they casually bring up what they’ve seen.
Uncaring colonialists
And many Tasmanians don’t actually want the thylacine to be found. A lot of people we wanted to talk to, locals who study it for themselves, are cagey and unresponsive when asked about it. To not share information confounds me. I doubt many people today, who know the thylacine is seen countless times, would laugh at you if you saw it. Most people in Tassie know someone who has seen one if they haven’t themselves. It’s not like Sasquatch. This thing did exist once. It’s a flesh and blood animal, is connected to the animal kingdom, unlike Sasquatch, who may have a supernatural element to it. It should not be an embarrassing thing to report seeing one. 

One thing about the Thylacine that people don’t realise is that they are incredibly elusive and shy, and will leave immediately when in the presence of a human. If they smell you, they’re out of there. If they hear you, they’re out of there. And it is said they have a better sense of smell than a dog. 48% of sightings are made from a car – cars driving along the road come upon the thylacine who may be just as surprised to see a car as the humans are surprised to see them. About 28% of sightings are made by single pedestrians, making no sound apart from walking.
Back in the day of foolish and selfish farmers and colonial people, nobody made a proper study of the behaviour of thylacines, they only really studied how it looked. Had it not been gone for 77 years, we would have made a detailed and scientific study of them by now – their gestation period, how many cubs they can have (it is said no more than 4), and all other attributes of the creature. Foolish and stupid people of the 1930s also should have kept them not in a cage, but a large varied wildlife reserve. That may be the only way to breed them in future if it ever happens.
Elusive and shy animals are rarely seen and even more rarely photographed. Look at the big cat of Australia – panthers that live in the open spaces of vast Australia are cautious of all people. Most of these animals are extremely happy to stay away from civilization. Some people in the past have encountered thylacines more than once – and often leave food for them. A few decades ago, an old man living in deepest parts of Tassie practically had a pet one that slept on his front porch. It was still shy of people, as it left minutes before bushwalkers arrived at the shack – it could either smell or hear them coming. This was long after 1936.
The thylacine makes a ‘yipping’ sound, as seen in the link above by Turk Porteous. We met someone last week who has heard it twice in the last 15 years. He mentioned that there was a pause in between the ‘yip’ sound. We were also told of two locations where we might hear it at night if we were quiet enough. One location we visited at day time, the other, near button-grass plains we visited more than once, and once kept a night time vigil. We heard nothing. This sound does not convince me. It’s too much like a bark. If I ever hear a thylacine, I’ll be well pleased. There are chances for that yet, as we are returning to Tassie. 

Soft organs
Thylacines are predators, and they were really the only ones in Tasmania back in the day, apart from the domesticated dog that lived with the Aborigines. When they kill, they eat the soft organs. If anyone finds a recent kill, say a wallaby, devoid of its organs but nothing else taken, then it may have been a thylacine kill. The devils would finish it off, wiping out all evidence. Turk Porteous mentions in that same link that he used to give it mutton. Good chance it would have not taken it. Had he left it a wallaby dangling from a rope a metre up, it might have eaten it.
In our time there, we picked up road kill to use for bait for the game cameras. We found a dead chicken. We also got a wallaby, freshly killed, we even ate some of it ourselves (our friend Jon McGowan eats roadkill, so he encouraged us). We also found a roadkill bandicoot, and a quoll. We even used some of our left over roast chicken carcasses. Mostly we got devils and other carnivores on the cameras, and picked up anything else that passed by. The dead chicken roadkill we hung from a tree, so devils could not reach it.
We have plans to return to Tassie to continue looking for the thylacine/tiger/wolf. It’s going to be a long process – a project over many years. Sighting or not, you can still compile a book about it. I like the idea of only visiting Tasmania as a cryptozoologist searching for the tiger. I would not be surprised if there was a population of 300 out there. Tasmania is big enough to handle that amount.

Tasmania regrets the loss of the thylacine. It’s the one thing about the past they wish they could fix. The Tasmanian Devil has been suffering from the spread of a deadly facial tumour for a while now, and before they become extinct, they have set up Devil Ark, a program that helps healthy breeding pairs re-populate. They don’t want to make the same mistake, even though it’s not dying out because of human interference, but a disease. Unless the disease was our fault.

With luck, the thylacine, which, according to many sightings, appears to be breeding healthily, may be re-discovered and be put upon an endangered list instead. 
Wilf Batty and the last (recorded) kill of a Thylacine
at Mawbanna, 1930. We met Wilf's nephew accidently
in a café while we were there, and interviewed him. The gun
in this photo is still in the family.

The CFZ are not interested in making money from any footage, photos or any kind of evidence of the discovery of a cryptid or extinct animal. Our intention in finding the Thylacine is due to a love and the preservation of the animals and their habitat. We do not plan to 'trap' the animal in any way (snares and traps are illegal in Tasmania), it's all for science and zoology, and our evidence will be free for all to see. See The Centre for Fortean Zoology's aim and intention. 

If you have any sightings (or know anyone who has) of Tasmanian Tigers in Tasmania or on mainland Australia, do not hesitate to contact CFZ Australia.

Being cousins does not matter - you'll still get eaten