Tasmanian Wolf (Thylacinus cynocephalus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family:    Thylacinidae
Size:    Length: 4 to 5 feet (1.22 to 1.52 m)  Height: 14 to 24 inches (36 to 61 cm) at the shoulder
Weight: 33 to 66 pounds (15 to 30 kg)
Diet: Wallabies, echidnas, wombats and other small mammals, as well as birds
Distribution: Australia and New Guinea
Young:  1 to 4 pups, once per year
Animal Predators:  None
IUCN Status: Extinct
Terms: Young: Pup
Lifespan: Unknown in the wild and up to 12 years in captivity



·       The Tasmanian wolf was featured on an Australian stamp released July 1, 1981.

·       Other names include “Tasmanian tiger,” “thylacine,” “zebra dog,” “kangaroo wolf” and “marsupial dog.”

·       The jaws of a Tasmanian wolf are believed to open wider than any other mammal—to almost 90º.

·       Benjamin, the last Tasmanian wolf in captivity, died at the Hobart Zoo on September 7, 1936.

·       This species lived for over 10,000 years, but was hunted to extinction in only several decades.

·       Nearly 50 percent of Australia’s native mammals have become extinct in the past 200 years.

·       The scientific name Thylacinus cynocephalus means “pouched-dog with a wolf head.”



While these unique animals bore many qualities resembling those of other animals like dogs, wolves, and kangaroos, they were in a class all their own. They were sometimes compared to tigers because of their fierce hunting skills and the 13 to 19 dark brown or black stripes that went down their back from behind the shoulders to the rear end, either stopping at the tail or getting fainter along the tail. When seen face on, they resembled a kangaroo (but with shorter ears) and in fact, would sometimes stand on their hind legs, using the tail as a prop. Some people reported that they even hopped on occasion, but this is unconfirmed. When on all fours, they resembled a dog and were the size of a large German shepherd.



Tasmanian wolves once roamed throughout Australia, but on the main island, their numbers diminished with the introduction of the dingo thousands of years ago. 


Feeding Habits

Tasmanian wolves would follow prey until it tired enough to be captured. They mostly preyed on small mammals such as wallabies, echidnas and wombats, as well as birds.



No captive Tasmanian wolves ever bred, and captive pups had a high casualty rate, so knowledge in this area is limited. Mating is believed to have been during late winter or early spring. The pups were carried in their mother’s pouch, which opened to the rear and had four nipples. When the pups grew too big to be carried, they were left alone in their den or another well-hidden place while the mother hunted. Captive Tasmanian wolves sometimes lived up to an estimated 12 years of age, but many died much sooner in captivity, while others died en route to zoos in other countries. Recently, it was announced that scientists may attempt to clone a Tasmanian wolf using DNA from a pup preserved in alcohol since 1866.



Tasmanian wolves lived in caves and came out mostly at night to hunt, although they were seen sometimes during the day, sunning on a rock. They were extremely shy of humans and when captured, usually gave up without a struggle. In fact, many died during capture or shortly thereafter, from shock. Those who survived the journey to zoos were docile captives, but were reported to be sullen, with vacant eyes. Some juveniles in zoos were tamed sufficiently to permit gentle petting, allowing their head to be scratched through the bars.  



On Tasmania, where the dingo was never introduced, Tasmanian wolves thrived until the first time a Tasmanian wolf came to the attention of European settlers in 1805, when one was killed by dogs. The finding was of great interest but people became less enthralled when they found that the Tasmanian wolves were hunting their domestic sheep (another animal introduced to Australia). Though the threat to sheep by Tasmanian wolves was greatly exaggerated, a bounty was put on their heads in 1888 by the Tasmanian government and between 1888 and 1914, more than 3,000 were shot and killed. The last wild Tasmanian wolf was killed in 1930. By 1910, they were already rare but it was not until July 1936 that legal protection was granted. Only a few months later, the world’s last captive Tasmanian wolf died in the Hobart zoo. Several short clips of this animal’s last, lonely years were captured on silent film and are available for viewing at http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/films/java/thylacine_films_java.htm. Although there have reportedly been sightings of Tasmanian wolves since that time, there has been no confirmed sighting in the wild since 1930, and in 1986, the species was officially declared extinct. Fossils found in New Guinea prove that Tasmanian wolves were also known there at one time, and there have been unconfirmed sightings in that area as well.