Two bike-riding brothers noticed something odd near a creek in northern Tasmania about a week ago. Levi and Jarom Triffitt, members of a stunt trail bike team, found what seemed to be a strange skull and jawbone. They claimed to have found the skull of a strange animal called a thylacine, which looks something like a striped dog.
Why was this such an exciting find? Because the last known thylacine is believed to have died in a zoo in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart on September 7, 1936.
Finding an intact, recent thylacine skull three-quarters of a century later — especially out in the open — would indicate that the animals are indeed still alive and roaming the rural areas of this small island south of Australia.
Some people are convinced that the thylacines still exist, almost like a Tasmanian version of Bigfoot (unlike Bigfoot, of course, thereâ€™s hard evidence that thylacines were real). According to thylacine expert Andrew Pask, an Australian zoologist at the University of Melbourne, the fact that the animals no longer exist hasnâ€™t stopped people from seeing them.
In an interview on the MonsterTalk podcast, Pask said that â€œSince it was named extinct, every year people come forth and say thereâ€™s been sightings of the thylacine. But thereâ€™s been no evidence ever brought forward for it. A few years ago in Australia there was a magazine that offered a million dollar reward for actual proof of a living thylacine in the wild. So people set off in droves trying to find the thylacine, but nobody was ever able to. Tasmaniaâ€™s not that big, and even its most inaccessible parts are not that inaccessible… I think if these were out there in the wild they would have been discovered by now.â€�
Scientists at Tasmaniaâ€™s Queen Victoria Museum examined the new skull and identified it as from the canid family — specifically, a dog. The similarity was not all in the Triffitt brothersâ€™ imaginations; the skulls of the dog-sized marsupial do resemble skulls of domestic dogs. The general public would be unfamiliar with a thylacine skull, and not know, for example, that the thylacine has two more front teeth in the upper jaw than a dog.
The brothers were not completely convinced by the zoologists, insisting that there may have been a mistake and vowing to do their own research. Until they are proven right, it seems that thylacines, like dodos and dinosaurs, are lost to time.
PHOTO: The Thylacine, called the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf, was a large marsupial. The female pictured here in 1934 was the last one to be captured and died in the old Hobart Zoo, now closed, on September 7th, 1936. Credit: Corbis