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Thylacine

At a glance

  • Tasmanian tiger
  • Preserved carcass or wet specimen
  • Extinction 
Preserved thylacine, 1930s
Preserved thylacine, 1930s. Photo: George Serras.

A rare and delicate specimen

One of the most fragile specimens in the National Museum's National Historical Collection is a whole preserved body of a thylacine.

The thylacine is an extinct carnivorous marsupial, most commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger.

There is no information about how or where this specimen was collected. It is part of the MacKenzie collection of wet specimens, which includes various other thylacine organs and parts. Orthopaedic surgeon Sir Colin MacKenzie was the director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy, where this specimen was previously held.

The last well-documented capture of a wild thylacine was in 1930, and this animal was probably collected around that time.

The same year, surveyor Selby Wilson caught an adult male thylacine with the faded markings of an old animal. Its skin is now also part of the Museum's collection.

Protection comes too late

The thylacine once roamed well beyond Tasmania. Fossilised remains have been found across the Australian mainland.

Thylacines were believed to kill livestock and were often shot and trapped. They were a convenient scapegoat for poor financial returns and high stock losses at a time of rural depression in Tasmania.

Even when they were known to be close to extinction, little was done to save them.

The thylacine was declared a protected species in July 1936, shortly before the last animal died in Tasmania's Beaumaris Zoo on 7 September 1936. Occasional, unconfirmed sightings are still reported.

Animal pelt with beige-brown fur and no tail. There is darker fur on the back with fourteen distinct darker stripes. No fur is on the ears, which are orange brown.
Pelt of a thylacine shot in the Pieman River-Zeehan area of Tasmania in 1930. Photo: George Serras.

The thylacine in the Museum's collection was never prepared as a biological display specimen.

The roughly skinned carcass is crude in appearance and seems to be missing some internal organs. It was, however, preserved in a fluid which prevented decay and ensured its survival today.

The thylacine specimen remains extremely fragile. Museum conservators found that when the animal was on display, protein from its muscles and calcium carbonate from its teeth and skeleton had leached into the preserving solution, which weakened its structural strength.

Conservators have moved the thylacine to a new tank which protects the specimen from vibration and helps to ensure the long-term survival of this carcass.

The National Museum holds a number of thylacine specimens, some of which are currently on display in the Old New Land gallery.

This is an edited version of an essay by conservator Patrya Kay, which first appeared in the Captivating and Curious publication.

More

Collection database record

'Stilled lives' article on the Australian Institute of Anatomy collection in the
Museum magazine

Other thylacine specimens in the National Museum's collection

Old New Land gallery