Animal species go extinct every day. There are thousands of bird species parakeets and seabirds that vanish before scientists or birdwatchers ever get a chance to study them, beyond a flap of wings or a blur of colourful feathers passing through a window. Insect populations, with their high birth rate and ever-changing environmental, spawn whole subfamilies and variant species before vanishing forever. And some of the world’s most beautiful and once-abundant mammals find their numbers dwindling into the hundreds, then the dozens, then to none at all.
There are any number of causes and any number of “villains” to blame. Environmental pollution and degradation is a common culprit. Overhunting is another. Simple Darwinism is yet another. Whatever the cause, however, the result is the same. A population of animals vanishes forever with no possibility of being encountered again.
That is, in most cases.
The story of the Tasmanian Tiger is all too typical in the world of endangered species studies and other issues related to environmental pollution and degradation. Yet the Tasmanian Tiger’s story is filled with unconventional flourishes. For example, the Tasmanian Tiger isn’t a true tiger at all, but a type of hybrid wolf/marsupial, named for the striped pattern on its hindquarters. At one time there were thousands of Tasmanian Tigers wandering the outback of Australia, competing with other animals for food, water, and breeding opportunities. Some 2,000 years ago, the Tasmanian Tiger lost this competition, and the only remaining members of the species were confined to Tasmania proper.
In the 1930s, the Tasmanian Tiger lost the competition for food and livelihood yet again, this time to the most dangerous opponent of all. Overhunting and the environmental pollution and degradation that comes hand in hand with human inhabitants moving into a formerly wild region led to the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger for good. The last confirmed member of the species died in captivity in 1936. This was a double blow to zoology, since the Tasmanian Tiger wasn’t simply a species unto itself, but also the last surviving member of the mysterious genus Thylacinus, the marsupial wolves. The opportunity to study the convergent evolution of the genus was forever lost with the Tiger, a victim of environmental pollution and degradation.
But, as we said, the story of the Tasmanian Tiger is not without its unique flourishes, such as the flash of stripes seen moving through the field of vision of a park ranger in 1995, or the herd of six or seven Thylacines spotted raiding a villager’s livestock in 1997.
Could the verdict on this victim of environmental pollution and degradation have been premature? The Australian government has since 1995 been running an investigation into the wilds of Tasmania, seeking answers. The story of environmental pollution and degradation has been, throughout human history, a tragic one, the mysterious “resurrection” of the Tasmanian Tiger could be, in at least one story, a happy ending.