1. Tasmanian TigerThe Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, is among the most famous (and most tragic) of all natural mysteries, cryptozoological or otherwise. A bloodthirsty apex predator, also known to be a tender parent and exceptionally timid around Humans, the thylacine was a fascinating creature. With a wolf-like head, a kangaroo-style pouch and thick, chocolate brown stripes running down its back, the Tassie tiger would certainly have been a sight to behold in its heyday. In fact, the earliest white settlers to Tasmania (what was then called Van Diemens Land) couldnt even decide on what to call it. A popular 19th century convict song sums up this confusion by mixing the real animal up with two completely different creatures, the line goes, Our cots were fencd with fire, we slumber when we can,To drive away wolves and tigers upon Van Diemens land Potentially the best example of what is called convergent evolution, the Thylacine, a marsupial predator, evolved to fill the gap in the Zealandian/Australian ecosystem that would usually be occupied by wolves (or other canids) in the rest of the world. The Tiger is thought to have died out on the Australian mainland some 2,000 years ago, (although this is disputed by some historians). However, in addition to remains and fossil evidence, the thylacine appears on some Aboriginal rock art. The animal also features in the aboriginal dreamtime stories (where she is sometimes referred to as Corinna the Tiger). In Tasmania, however, the tiger was sheltered from competition with other predators (such as dingos, which were probably introduced to Australia by Southeast Asian seafarers about 5,000 years ago and may have contributed to the downfall of the Thylacine there). The tiger thrived as the islands top predator until the early part of the last century. In 1825, The Van Diemens Land Company (based in London) was interested in herding sheep for the wool, but found that animal predation was, quite literally, eating into their profits. They (falsely) blamed the biggest and most visible of the Islands predators and began a chillingly efficient scheme to wipe the thylacine from the face of the earth. Beginning in the 19th century, overzealous farmers, settlers and bounty hunters (there was a lot of money to be made from the slaughter of these animals, with the company paying a high price for every individual killed, even pups) hunted the thylacine to apparent extinction. In addition to this wholesale slaughter, the Thylacine became stricken with a strange disease at around the same time, something that greatly reduced the species already dwindling numbers. By the 1920s, the animals were increasingly rare, but were still being killed by trapping, shooting and hunting. The last confirmed thylacine to have been killed in the wild was shot by a farmer named Wilf Batty in 1930. The last captive thylacine, nicknamed Benjamin, died in 1936 in Hobart zoo, Tasmania. It perished from a combination of neglect and exposure, (a particularly harrowing account of Bens fate is given in the book Carnivorous Nights by Maragret Mittelback and Michael Crewdson). It appeared that was all she wrote for the Tassie tiger. ...Or was it? For one reason or another, the tiger was not officially declared extinct until 1986, perhaps because people kept seeing it. Since its alleged extinction, the thylacine has been sighted again and again in Tasmania, often at night (the animals preferred hunting time). Oddly, the thylacine is also even more commonly sighted in Australia and, even more strange is the fact that the best evidence of the animals continued survival actually comes from Australia, not Tasmania. It seems bizarre that the animal is being sighted on the mainland at all, but an Animal X television documentary made in the 2000s may have cleared this up by featuring period documents that hinted at a secret conservation effort made on behalf of the tiger, whereupon an amount of adult thylacines were apparently released onto the mainland (make of that what you will). In 1973, a thylacine was filmed on 8mm stock in South Australia, the footage is inconclusive, but certainly shows an unusual animal and may very well be genuine. In 1985, Kevin Cameron, an aboriginal tracker, photographed a possible thylacine digging in some ground. Although the head is not visible in the picture, the viewer can clearly make out the animals stripes and its long, tapered tail. Back in Tasmania, Hans Naarding, a researcher with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, claimed to have seen a thylacine in 1982. Because of the credibility of the eyewitness, a full search was later commissioned, but sadly, no evidence was found. However, in 1995, a Parks and Wildlife employee observed a thylacine in the early hours of the morning. Many others claim to have heard the animals raspy, yapping cry when hiking or camping, but the thylacine is far more likely to be heard than seen in the perpetual umbra of the Antipodean night. These accounts are by no means isolated, as reports of the sightings (especially from Australia) number in (at least) the thousands. I should know, last year, a distant relative of mine living in Australia contacted me asking for some historical information regarding our family line (our family is of Romanichal origin). During the course of our communication, I casually asked her if she had ever seen a thylacine. ...She confirmed that, a few years ago, when she was driving home late one night, a sandy-brown striped creature had crossed the road in front of her car. She had seen it illuminated in the headlamps, but didnt realize what it was until her brain registered the dark brown stripes across its back. What else could it have been? If the thylacine is truly extinct and the sightings can be attributed to misplaced guilt for their extinction, misidentification of other animals (especially foxes and dogs afflicted with mange) or unspecified psychological or sociological phenomena, then we can rest safe in the knowledge that the genome of the thylacine has now been fully sequenced and plans have been put forward to clone the creature. If, to borrow from Thomas Browne, all things are artificial, for nature is the art of God, then well definitely be putting that theory to the test over the next few decades. Of course, it is early days yet and cloning poses many problems (both ethical and scientific) for those involved, but it is nice to hope, is it not? Finally, if any (or, indeed, all) of the above seems too fantastic to be true (and most of it quite possibly is), consider this; in 2007, researchers discovered that a population of some 100,000 Western Lowland Gorillas were living in the Republic of the Congo. Prior to their discovery, this population was completely unknown to science. I dont need to tell you that gorillas are big animals. If 100,000 were able to hide away from man until just 7 years ago, is it not possible that some other, stranger, creatures are also doing just that? On that subject (and on cryptozoology in general), all there is to say is that one should always keep their eyes, as well as their mind, firmly open. As Aristotle famously said, Nature does nothing without purpose or uselessly.
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