Final Goodbye: The Thylacine

Earlier this month a milestone passed quietly in the world. It wasn’t momentous, really. Not really. Just a meeting in Bangkok of 178 delegates from a number of countries. And the Thylacine–Tasmanian Tiger–was removed from the list of animals with trade bans by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). To the best of our knowledge, the last Thylacine was died in 1936 inside Hobart Zoo. The last known wild Thylacine had already been shot in 1930. So really, there’s been no change in the story of the Thylacine. Perhaps all that could be said is that humanity has officially decided to give up hope that any Thylacines were left in the world who could be saved. Somewhere. Anywhere.

I don’t know why the Thylacine has had such a great impact on me personally. Possibly it’s the first creature I learnt of that had died out because of us–humans. I knew about the dinosaurs and I thought they were cool. I even convinced my dad to take me to see Jurassic Park when I was twelve despite the fact that it had a PG 13+ or maybe even 15+ rating, and my mum was pretty strict on what films and shows I was allowed to see back then. But the dinosaurs had died out because of a meteor strike, or so the popular wisdom went–and as far as I know, still goes. The Thylacine had been shot. A beautiful creature that existed nowhere else in the world was shot as a sheep killer, even though studies now suggest Thylacines killed very few sheep, and indeed the majority of a farmer’s losses in those days were more likely to be due to people and the feral dogs who had been introduced by said people.

There have been many attempts to bring back the Thylacine, through cloning and genetic engineering. It’s not quite Jurassic park given that the bones and tissue samples we have are not fossilised. There’s arguments against playing God, although I’d argue that in killing off multiple species we’re already there, and other concerns around genetic diversity and a sustainable population, but I can’t help wishing there could be a day when I will be able to see a real live Thylacine, not just an old grainy video of the last one we mistreated. At least it wasn’t clubbed to death by some sailor for sport as the last dodo was I suppose.

Recent evidence suggests that some idiot purposely introduced foxes into Tasmania, and I like to think there’s a special circle of hell reserved for whoever it was who thought that was a good idea.

In any case, I just wanted to take some time to remember a remarkable animal who we slaughtered and who I will never get to see.

Let’s try not to add to that list.