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Final glimpse: Last-known film of thylacine found

Tim Martain and Blair Richards, May 20, 2020 9:00AM Mercury

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A still image from the newly discovered 1935 film of the last thylacine. media_cameraA still image from the newly discovered 1935 film of the last thylacine.

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Tasmanian tiger researchers have discovered what is thought to be the last film of a thylacine.

The film was taken in 1935, two years later than any other known record.

And it could cast doubt on the Tassie tiger’s reputation as a fierce, aggressive animal.

The old tourism film, long buried in the vaults* of the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra, ACT, contains roughly 20 seconds of rare film of a live thylacine in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in Tasmania.

In it, the captive* Tasmanian tiger is seen pacing inside its enclosure at the zoo, apparently very placid* despite noisy humans trying to provoke* it.

“You can clearly see them trying to rile* it up from outside the enclosure but it actually seems quite timid, even with the cameraman inside the enclosure,” thylacine researcher Branden Holmes said.

“So what we can learn from this really short clip of film is that thylacines actually seemed to be quite timid*, in contrast to their reputation for being ferocious sheep-killers.”

New footage of extinct Tasmanian Tiger filmed in 1935

Mr Holmes and fellow researchers Mike Williams and Gareth Linnard, discovered the rare footage in a film called Tasmania the Wonderland by filmmaker Sidney Cook as part of Cook’s tour of Tasmania in 1935.

The voice narrating the film says the Tasmanian tiger is a “dangerous opponent, though like the devil, is now very rare. Forced out of his natural habitat by the march of civilisation, this is the only one in captivity in the world.”

That male thylacine, known as Benjamin, was also the last known live specimen. A year after this film was made he died, making this the last known footage* of the animal.

MORE TIGER FILM
The same three researchers released another rediscovered film in March, from the Tasmanian State Archives, a few seconds of the same creature in an old family film made during a trip to the Hobart zoo.

WATCH: Rare footage of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger (FULL VERSION)

Mr Holmes and his colleagues are part of a group called Tasmanian Tiger Archives on Facebook, which helps researchers from around Australia share information and leads.

They are currently trying to track down another lost film, referred to in a 1978 article in The Mercury newspaper, said to show a thylacine cub.

“The thylacine was not well studied when it was alive, so these films are all we have now,” he said.

The March find and this latest find in Canberra add to the five previously known films of thylacines from Beaumaris Zoo and two films from London Zoo.

EXTINCT?
Mr Williams has been to Tasmania about 25 times since 2002 on thylacine hunting trips to speak with people who believe they have seen live thylacines.

“I just find the animal an icon and it means so much to conservation efforts around the world and to other animals that are disappearing,” Mr Williams said.

“There’s a very slim chance it does still exist … it’s something I would love to believe is true.”

Although the thylacine is listed as “presumed extinct”, Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment still records reported sightings.

Documents released by the department in October 2019 show eight sightings were reported in the past three years.

GLOSSARY

  • vaults: safe storage for special things
  • captive: not in the wild
  • placid: calm and quiet
  • provoke: cause a response
  • rile: provoke, tease, make angry
  • timid: shy
  • footage: another name for film

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Alive! Creature thought extinct found

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Why can’t we film thylacines now?
  2. What was the name of the last known living thylacine?
  3. What did the 1978 newspaper article mention?
  4. How likely does Mr Williams think it is that a thylacine is alive?
  5. How many sightings were reported in Tasmania in the past three years?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Disappearance of the Tasmanian Tiger
The 1935 film narrator states that the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) was “forced out of his natural habitat by the march of civilisation”. Work with a partner and list the possible and probable reasons that the Tasmanian Tiger is now listed as ‘presumed extinct’.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social

2. Extension
Eight sightings of the thylacine were reported between 2016 and 2019. Do you think there is a possibility that the Tasmanian Tiger could still be a living species?

If it wasn’t the Tasmanian Tiger, what other animal may it have been?

If it were still alive, what would mean to animal conservation efforts?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Connective Collection
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think there are thylacines still alive?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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