Monday, October 22, 2007

Animal of the Week -- October 22, 2007

Distressing news Ani-freaks, the devil facial tumour virus that is wiping out Tasmanian devils has spread to a previously uninfected population that had been viewed as a safeguard for the species' future. Now conservationists think that finding uninfected wild devils may be impossible from the middle of next year. Once infected the tumours impede feeding and lead to starvation within 6 months. Eeek! Could this be it for the inspiration for a much loved cartoon character? Could the Tasmanian devil soon be heading the same way as this week's animal of the week, its larger, more ferocious, and more extinct cousin Thylacinus cynocephalus (Tasmanian tiger, Tasmanian wolf, thylacine)?

Neither tigers nor wolves, thylacines were the largest marsupial predators to survive into modern times and were a little smaller than a wolf. Once widespread across New Guinea, mainland Australia, and Tasmania, they became extinct on the mainland about 2000 years ago, and by the time Europeans arrived, their range was, like that of the devil, restricted to Tasmania. Viewed as a threat to livestock, a bounty of £1 for adults and 10 shillings for pups, was paid for their capture; at about the same time in Tasmania the bounty for aborigines was £5 for adults £2 for children.

By 1900, thylacines were hard to find (the aborigines were impossible to find by this time) and a conservation programme was set up in 1901 to safeguard the species for addition to collections and zoos. However, the combination of persecution, habitat loss, and disease had sent the species into terminal decline. Benjamin, captured in 1933, was the last known living thylacine, and he resided in Hobart zoo until his death in 1936. There have been many reported sighting of thylacines from New Guinea to Tasmania since 1936, but none has been verified, although many people believe they still cling on in remote regions, in 1986 they were declared officially extinct and any attempt to study their presence in the wild is branded as cryptozoology.

Although named Benjamin, the gender of the last thylacine was unknown. While we're on the subject of gender, thylacines were one of only two types of marsupial in which the male had a pouch. The pouch was unlike the females' pouches, but like those of the male South American water opossums, the male thylacine's pouch was used to support their pendulous scrotum!

With an enormous gape and an incredibly strong jaw (pound for pound they probably had the greatest bite pressure of any mammalian carnivore), thylacines were fearsome beasts. Although there is no evidence to suggest that they were a threat to humans, as this week's photo shows they could easily fit the head of a prat with a dodgy moustache into their mouths (the moustache is also extinct, or at least hiding very well in a protobeard).

OK, bye then!

Peter Hayward
Head Keeper
Animal of the Week

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At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:47 AM, Blogger animaloftheweek said...

Thanks Adam.
Your continued promotion of this abs diet is greatly appreciated. I am only moments away from a six pack. Actually the remnants of six Kronenbourg for a fiver are playing merry hell with my brain as I type. Would that you were one of the Adams I know, this would be amusing. As you are not, you can pick a word to put before off and do it, please.


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