The last Tasmanian tiger’s remains were finally found—in a cupboard

The last Tasmanian tiger’s remains were finally found—in a cupboard
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Recently, scientists have uncovered a lizard fossil that hadn’t been seen since the 1950s and army ant fossils that were hidden at Harvard University for almost 100 years. It turns out that another large fossil find can be traced back to a museum cupboard at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, Tasmania. Researchers there found the long-lost remains of the last known Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus). The remains have been missing for over 85 years.

[Related: A genetics startup wants to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction. ]

“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success, as no thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded,” said researcher and comparative psychologist from the Australian Catholic University Robert Paddle, in a statement. He said that it was assumed that the body of the animal had been discarded.

The Tasmanian tiger was a dog-sized carnivorous marsupial with sharp claws, that was native to New Guinea, the Australian mainland, and Tasmania for four million years. Sporting yellowish to gray fur and distinctive tiger stripes covering its body, it first disappeared from the mainland about 2,000 years ago. The National Australia Museum speculates multiple factors, including over hunting and the introduction of the dingo, led to this first wave of extinction.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Europeans began to colonize the island of Tasmania–an island about 150 miles south of Australia. They incorrectly blamed the marsupials for killing their chickens and sheep and thylacines were slaughtered by the thousands, with the government even offering bounties for thylacine pelts. The Tasmanian Tiger was doomed when they fought for dominance with dingoes. The last known thylacine died in the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart on September 7, 1936.

However, the thylacine often called the “last thylacine” in photos was actually the second to-last thylacine. Paddle claims that the last thylacine, also known as the “endling”, was actually an older female and was the one that had been kept in a cupboard for so many years. The thylacine had been captured by a trapper from the Florentine Valley named Elias Churchill and sold to Beaumaris Zoo in May 1936, before it died. Due to the “somewhat shady” acquisition, the experts lost track of the specimen’s skeleton and skin and they were kept in the cupboard at the museum.

The last Tasmanian tiger’s remains were finally found—in a cupboard
The skull of the last thylacine that died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. CREDIT: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

” The sale was not recorded by the zoo, Paddle stated. “Ground-based snaring at the time was illegal and Churchill could be fined.” “The thylacine lived only a few months before it died and its body was transferred from TMAG .”

Curators used the discovery of a previously unpublished museum taxidermist’s report dated back to 1936-1937 to verify when the last thylacine specimen arrived at TMAG. Kathryn Medlock, Honorary Curator of Vertebrate Zooology at TMAG, stated that the report included a thylacine specimen among the collection of specimens the institution had worked on in that year.

[Related: The search for the extinct Tasmanian tiger. ]

“The disarticulated skeleton of the thylacine body was placed on a series five cards to be part of the newly formed education collection under the supervision by Mr. A W G Powell,” Medlock stated in an . statement. “The arrangement of a skeleton on the cards allowed museum educators to explain thylacine anatomy and to students.”

Both Paddle, and Medlock stated that the species will be placed alongside the Carolina parakeet and the passenger pigeon in the museum. A paper detailing the findings will be published at a later date in Australian Zoologist.

The thylacine has been the subject of headlines lately for efforts by the to revive the extinct marsupial . Gene-editing startup Colossal Biosciences & Laboratories announced its plans to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to bring back the thylacine. While the Jurassic Park-esque science isn’t quite here yet, the company founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and geneticist George Church laid out a 10 step plan to re-introduce a Tasmanian tiger like animal back into the wild. They are partnering with and investing in the University of Melbourne’s Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab (TIGRR). Andrew Pask, a marsupial evolutionary biologist who is also a Tasmanian tiger expert, leads TIGRR. He has already completed the critical first step in sequencing most of the animal’s genome.

However, not everyone is in agreement with this plan. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald in August, Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA described this de-extinction effort as “fairytale science,” and claimed that efforts to bring back the thylacine or the mammoth are more about media attention than the actual science. Mike Westerman, a marsupial DNA expert from La Trobe University, said that he was “not convinced” that it is possible with current knowledge. Where on earth would a self-sustaining population be maintained?”

Editor’s Disclosure: Matt Sechrest, the managing partner of Popular Science’s parent company, North Equity, is an investor in Colossal. He was not involved with the assignment, writing, editing, or editing this story.

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