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Lost remains of last Tasmanian tiger finally found, hidden in plain sight

The last known Tasmanian tiger died in a zoo in 1936. The remains of the thylacine were misidentified for decades, but a team of researchers have rediscovered its bones and skin hidden in plain sight in a collection at the Tasmanian Museum and Art. Gallery in Hobart.

This partial thylacine skull belongs to the last known Tasmanian tiger.

Museum and Art Gallery of Tasmania

The missing animals were carnivorous marsupials native to Australia. They looked like a cross between a dog and a cat with tiger-like stripes on their backs. Animals have retained their hold on the popular imagination, with unconfirmed (and unlikely) sightings in nature.

The story of the last thylacine is tangled. It was an old female captured by trapper Elias Churchill. He then sold it to Beaumaris Zoo in 1936. After its death, the thylacine’s body was sent to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. His body was flayed and the skeleton was taken apart to show students how his anatomy worked. But at some point, it just disappeared.

Researchers had previously searched the museum for the remains, but concluded they were likely discarded.

The files were indeed sketchy. “The sale was not recorded or made public by the zoo because at the time ground trapping was illegal and Churchill could have been fined,” Robert Paddle said in a statement from the museum on Monday. Paddle is one of the researchers who identified the remains.

The search resumes thanks to the discovery of a museum taxidermist’s report on the thylacine dated 1936/1937. A new examination of the museum’s entire Tasmanian tiger collection has finally identified the true origin of the bones and skin.

“It is bittersweet that the mystery surrounding the remains of the last thylacine has been solved and it has been found to be part of the TMAG collection,” said museum director Mary Mulcahy.

The correctly cataloged thylacine is now on display.

The remains found in the museum may not be the final chapter in the animal’s story. Extinction start-up Colossal wants to bring Tasmanian tigers back to life. The hope is that the thylacine will once again be prowling the Tasmanian wilderness, and no longer just a memory in bones, skin and old film footage.


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