Smithsonian

Remembering the Tasmanian Tiger, 80 Years After It Became Extinct

 Benjamin photographed at Beaumaris Zoo in 1933. (Wikimedia Commons)

Benjamin photographed at Beaumaris Zoo in 1933. (Wikimedia Commons)

Eighty years ago today, the last Tasmanian tiger died in the Hobart Zoo. It was called Benjamin.

Video footage of the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, captures an unusual creature. Bobbing its head and glancing at the camera, it doesn’t seem much like a carnivore—until it yawns, revealing an improbably large mouth with pointed teeth.

Its movements aren’t the lithe swagger you might expect from a feline. But that makes sense: despite its deceptive name, the thylacine was a large marsupial, about the size of a dog. It got the name “tiger” because of the stripes that ran down its body.

The last thylacine’s death came about because a zookeeper forgot to lock it in its shelter one night and it died of exposure, a release by the Australian government states. Whether that’s true or not, this story about the thylacine is illustrative of a dark chapter in Australia’s environmental history.

Besides habitat destruction and other factors associated with settlement in Tasmania, thylacines were actively hunted. Bounty systems for the thylacine were established as early as 1830. Ironically, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that the thylacine likely wasn’t strong enough to hunt sheep—one of the rationales behind the thylacine bounty.

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