Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thylacine Hunted into Extinction for No Reason, Study Reveals

The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), better known as the Tasmanian tiger, has long been the poster child for human-caused extinction. Hunted out of existence by Australian farmers who feared that the striped, canine-like marsupials would kill their sheep, the last thylacine died in captivity in Hobart Zoo 75 years ago next week, on September 7, 1936 (although the species was not officially declared extinct until about 25 years ago).

Now, just a few days before the annual observance of National Thylacine Day in Australia, a new study reveals that the predator was probably not a threat to sheep after all. Its notably long jaw (one of the animal’s most distinctive features) could open to an amazing 120 degrees but was too weak to kill sheep, according to a study published September 1 in the Journal of Zoology.

“Our research has shown that its rather feeble jaw restricted it to catching smaller, more agile prey,” lead author Marie Attard of the University of New South Wales in Australia, said in a prepared statement. Instead, it appears the thylacine killed and ate smaller animals, such as possums. more