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New hunt for Tasmanian Tigers after reported sightings in Queensland
SUSPECTED Tasmanian Tiger sightings in Queensland have reignited a search for the elusive marsupial far from their traditional home.
WHETHER its existence is real or imagined, the Tasmanian tiger is making a comeback across Australia.
A team of university researchers is gearing up to search for the Tassie tiger in Queensland, suspected thylacine droppings are undergoing analysis in South Australia and a documentary about sightings is being launched at a thylacine festival in Western Australia.
This week marks the 81st anniversary of the death of the last known thylacine in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo, but “sightings”, videos, rumours and research are alive and well.
Sightings of thylacines across Queensland have flooded James Cook University in recent months after researchers announced plans for a field survey in the tropics to hunt the elusive marsupial.
Reported sightings have become so regular in Nannup, Western Australia, the town is hosting a festival next week in the thylacine’s honour.
And South Australia’s water authority will use new DNA sampling technology to test conclusively whether or not the state’s reported sightings are stemming from fact or fiction.
Tasmanian thylacine researcher Col Bailey, the state’s leading author on thylacine activity, says the mainland is in the grip of wishful thinking.
“I’m certain it’s here in Tasmania, but I don’t know about up there. I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
Official accounts suggest the thylacine became extinct on Australian mainland more than 2000 years ago.
It has also been listed as extinct in Tasmania since the death of the last known thylacine at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart on September 7, 1936.
Despite the thylacine’s official status as extinct, its status on the internet is flourishing.
In the past few years the thylacine has been filmed running through a paddock in Queensland, lurking around wheelie bins in an Adelaide suburb, rustling through Victorian bush and grooming itself in Tasmania’s North-East.
Wildlife biologist Nick Mooney, who has spent decades investigating tiger sightings, says the chances of the thylacine continuing to roam anywhere were very thin.
He said the flurry of recent sightings was proof of the popularity of trail cameras, more than the persistence of thylacines.
“This recent enthusiasm, I think, is a reflection of this groovy technology that is available to anyone,” he said.
Mr Mooney, who takes his own cameras into the bush to monitor wildlife, estimates there are about 400-500 cameras lurking in the Tasmanian bush alone — used by researchers, farmers and others.
While a sceptic about the continued existence of thylacines, Mr Mooney is respectful enough of the Australian environment to allow room for wonder.
“The odds are very, very slim — but I openly state we are not as good at finding very rare stuff as we think we are.”
In an effort to conduct a co-ordinated search, a team of researchers from James Cook University is about to be dropped by helicopter into remote tracts of Queensland’s far north.
Armed with 100 trail cameras, the team is heading to locations of reported thylacine sightings.
The field survey, due to start in October, follows an announcement by the university earlier this year that they wanted to hear from anyone who had ever seen a thylacine in Far North Queensland.
They were inundated.
“I’ve lost track of how many reports we got — there was more than 50,” lead researcher Sandra Abell said.
“Previously I hadn’t really known much about these observations, but apparently they are relatively common. I have been personally surprised by it.”
The field trial, which runs over four weeks, also fulfills another research purpose — looking at small mammals and the effect of predators in Queensland.
But it was widened to thylacines after researcher Bill Laurance spoke to people with plausible and detailed descriptions of potential thylacines on Cape York Peninsula.
“One of those observers was a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service, and the other was a frequent camper and outdoorsman in north Queensland,” Prof Laurance said.
“All observations of putative thylacines to date have been at night and, in one case, four animals were observed at close range — about 20 feet away — with a spotlight.
“We have cross-checked the descriptions we received of eye shine colour, body size and shape, animal behaviour, and other attributes, and these are inconsistent with known attributes of other large-bodied species in north Queensland such as dingoes, wild dogs and feral pigs.”
When the university called for other possible witnesses to come forward, some did so with a sense of relief — grateful to finally offload a story they had been cautiously guarding for decades.
Dr Abell said she has an open mind about the thylacine’s continued existence, though she was yet to see anything that resembled irrefutable “evidence”.
While the Queenslanders gear up, scientists in South Australia are in the thick of investigating three specimens of possible thylacine scats.
South Australia’s water authority has acquired DNA analysing technology that allows them to determine what organisms have been in contact with the state’s water — including thylacines.
The Australian Water Quality Centre, which is a business unit of SA Water, has obtained a thylacine sample for its DNA database.
The centre is analysing a number of scats sent in by South Australian thylacine enthusiast Neil Waters, who runs the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia.
Mr Waters said there had been more than 5000 sightings of the thylacine on the mainland since it was presumed extinct.
Mr Waters, who frequently visits Tasmania, took footage late last year of what appears to be a thylacine grooming itself in Tasmania’s North-East.
“I’ve been accused of faking and photo-shopping it, but I’m really not into faking anything,” he said.
“I know they exist in Tassie, because I’ve seen two of them.”
Mr Waters is this week headed to Nannup, where he will launch a documentary on Saturday about his research called Living the Thylacine Dream.
Stories about a resident population of thylacines in Nannup are so entrenched the townsfolk fondly call it the “Nannup Tiger”.
The town’s “Nannup Tiger — Fact or Fiction” festival starts Thursday, to coincide with Threatened Species Day, which commemorates the death of the last known Tasmanian tiger in Hobart.
Though the Tassie tiger has been extinct for 3000 years in Western Australia, the town is spending 10 days celebrating what has gone — and what might still be.
Originally published as New hunt for Tasmanian Tigers in Qld
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