Not too long ago the idea of de-extincting the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine) was thought to be a long shot at best. The Australian marsupial predator had left behind too little genetic material to work with. But recent discoveries and an RNA breakthrough may have started a Tasmanian tiger countdown.
That, at least is the opinion of some researchers. The University of Melbourne runs TIGRR Thylacine Integrated Genomic Restoration Research Lab) and has this to say:
“Of all the species proposed for de-extinction, the thylacine has arguably the most compelling case. The thylacine was eradicated as a result of direct human influence less than 100 years ago, rather than through natural processes such as those that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
“The thylacine was unique among living marsupials. Not only did it have its iconic wolf-like appearance, but it was also our only marsupial apex predator. Apex predators form extremely important parts of the food chain and are often responsible for stabilising ecosystems. The habitat in Tasmania has remained relatively unchanged, providing the perfect environment to re-introduce the thylacine and enabling it to reoccupy its niche.
The thylacine de-extinction project will develop key technologies and resources which are critical now to help preserve and conserve our extant marsupial species.“
The Tasmanian tiger countdown seems quite bold to most researchers, including those in Sweden who sequenced the animal’s RNA. The most optimistic think ten years is a possibility.
But there is one nagging question: Are they even extinct.? There have been many sightings since the official end date of 1936. A new study is casting doubt on that date. According to the Guardian a careful analysis of sightings since 1936 suggests they may have survived much longer than thought. Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania has been studying the exact date of extinction for years. He made a careful analysis of more than 1,200 sightings since 1936. His analysis suggests the animals survived for at least several decades in the wild, possibly into the 2000’s. But he believes there is less than a 1% chance they still exist as some would hope. Brook and his colleagues recently published their work in Science of the Total Environment. A small cadre of enthusiasts hope Brook is wrong and that there a thylacines out there.
If the animals sighted are not thylacines, what are they? Tasmanian pademelons are one candidate. Since thylacines are dog sized and dog like the average dog is another. As for padmelons Britannica says:
“Often called pademelons, the three species of scrub wallabies (Thylogale) of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Tasmania are small and stocky, with short hind limbs and pointy noses. They are hunted for meat and fur. A similar species is the short-tailed scrub wallaby, or quokka (Setonix brachyurus); this species is now restricted to two offshore islands of Western Australia.”
Professor Andrew Pask, who is part of the thylacine reintroduction plan Told the Guardian:
“Prof “Andrew Pask, of the University of Melbourne, is part of a team trying to work out ways to resurrect the thylacine using DNA from the animal, supported by genetic samples from its relative the numbat.
Pask – who was not involved in the new study – said the research “relies on a lot of maybes”.
He said because thylacines resembled a dog, he thinks many people who were convinced they had seen one may have just been seeing modern canines.
He said: “It would have made sense that a few animals were probably still around in the world [after the 1936 death], but I think it’s very unlikely thylacines would have survived beyond a few generations. And we think each generation as about eight years.
“It’s become like our Loch Ness Monster or big foot – an almost mythical creature – but I like [that some people still think they see them] because it keeps the memory of them alive and reminds people of this amazing animal that we hunted to extinction.”
De-extinction efforts are underway around the world. One of the best known candidates is the wooly mammoth. Even the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is said to be interested in de-extinction. The spy agency is said to be working to be sure the United States has an eye on the developing genetic technologies. Of course the CIA says nothing. All that is certain is that an organization sometimes connected to the spymasters is helping with the research.
Critics remain skeptical and fear the money spent is being diverted from saving currently threatened species. Perhaps a successful Tasmanian tiger countdown t de-extinction would prove a boon. It might suggest extinction is not forever anymore.