Thylacine Sighting Reports Database

The catalogue method employed is detailed here. See below for a brief discussion.

Australasia (296 reports)

Mainland Australia (197 reports)

Australian Capital Territory (3 reports)

New South Wales (96 reports; +1 border report)

Northern Territory

Queensland (33 reports)

South Australia (20 reports)

Victoria (30 reports; +1 border report)

Western Australia (21 reports)

Other (93 reports)

Miscellaneous Islands (1 report)

New Guinea (1 report)

State Unknown (4 reports)

Tasmania (87 reports)

International

India

UK (? reports)

USA

 

Thyla-seen?

Since the 1930's there have been many reported thylacine sightings in Tasmania. And although none have been scientifically confirmed, by way of a firmly dated biological specimen, it is quite possible that the species persisted in the wild longer than in captivity (i.e. 7-8 September 1936). Many of those early reports collected by the Sargeant Summers and Fleming expeditions in 1937/38 were made by those who had direct experience of the species while it was undoubtedly extant. Moreover, although it has been putatively historically confined to Tasmania, it is known from fossil and subfossil remains throughout mainland Australia and even in New Guinea. Representing populations that are believed to have died out thousands of years ago. But whose historical survival, even persistence to the present, cannot be ruled out a priori.

It is very difficult to compile a database of thylacine sightings, wholly apart from the obvious difficulty in bringing together such widely dispersed reports, many only passed on verbally. The least serious problem is tying down an exact time period to serve as the earliest possible date for inclusion in the database. For all regions except Tasmania this is unnecessary as science does not accept the historical survival of any non-Tasmanian population. While for Tasmania this falls somewhere between 6 May 1930 (when Wilf Batty killed the specimen at Mawbanna) and 7-8 September 1936 (when the last captive individual died). There is a persistent claim that Elias Churchill captured the last authenticated wild thylacine in 1933. In reality, there is not sufficient evidence to determine when the last confirmed thylacine was recorded.

The more serious problem is the ubiquitous and often heated issue of identification. Does the witness themselves need to identify the animal as a thylacine? Or can somebody else suggest the thylacine as a fit for the description? Can the witness come to believe that they saw a thylacine, after making their initial report of a mysterious animal? Does a report need to include the stripes? Are the appearance of stripes sufficient to rule out other possible identifications? Some reported thylacine sightings are of animals that lack the distinctive stripes, even encompassing melanistic (black) individuals. When seen from a specific rear angle the stripes of one of the thylacines filmed in a zoological gardens appear to disappear for a split second. However, in other cases it is adamantly maintained that the animal was black, and the pelage colouration was not due to an optical illusion. As several thousand individuals were killed in Tasmania, with not a single individual lacking the distinctive stripes, such atypically coloured individuals must be exceptionally rare, if not non-existent. 

There is also the recent worrying trend of foxes being filmed and claimed to be thylacines1. Sometimes with the explanation that the animal represents, not the 'Tasmanian' type, but a mainland 'variant' or subspecies that has morphologically converged with the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Proponents of this view also sometimes claim that they have evolved an underground habit. I discuss (and dismiss) such outlandish claims here2. Foxes no doubt account for many alleged thylacine reports, which is only natural given the phenotypic variation (often induced by poor health) that foxes can exhibit, combined with the fleeting nature of many of the sightings. But when the sighting is immortalised in a photograph or film, identification ceases to be anecdotal and becomes scientific.

A visual encounter is of course not the only way to infer the existence of an animal in a particular area. Tracks, scats, hair and other signs such as vocalisations can often be used to identify an animal. And there is no shortage of claims of extra-bodily evidence of the thylacine. Some of which is discussed in the article linked to in the paragraph above. With the advent of DNA, analysis of genetic material residing in environments (eDNA) or concentrated in biological specimens, identification can be absolute. Sadly no thylacine DNA has been recovered beyond that obtained from museum specimens. Although novel methods for capturing thylacine DNA by proxy have been put forward (Weinzierl & Domack, 2014; SA Water, 2018).

Notes

1 The most obvious trend amongst reported thylacine sightings is that those from the mainland exceed those of Tasmania by several times, even though the last evidence of their presence there is some two thousand years ago. The most obvious candidate explanation is that wild dogs and foxes are near ubiquitous on the mainland, yet almost entirely absent from Tasmania. Thus misidentification of canids likely accounts for at least the vast majority of mainland reports. And thus misidentification is also likely to be pervasive in Tasmania.

2 Please note that the link is currently dead as I am in the process of completely rewriting and expanding the article.

References

SA Water. (2018). SA Water scientists use DNA in Tassie tiger search. Press release dated 7 May 2018.

Weinzierl, Michael and Domack, Eugene. (2014). Applied Cryptozoology - Using Leeches to Locate the Thylacine. Tasmanian Geographic, online magazine.