In the 1990s a Spanish film crew came to Australia shooting footage in two states. In Tasmania they discussed the thylacine, but it was in Western Australia that they captured footage of an unknown animal as it ate from a wallaby carcass.
A Spanish thylacine?
Thank you to Miguel, a regular reader here at Where Light Meets Dark, for bringing this video to my attention - and even more so, for providing a translation of the Spanish dialogue!
The video I am talking about is a television interview with zoologist Fernando González Sitges, regarding the filming of a thylacine in Australia in the 1990s. It is available for viewing at YouTube and is titled "possible tasmanian tiger filmed in Australia".
The text associated with the video reads (verbatim, including errors):
"An spanish tv team filmed an strange animala the end of the 90s in the Western Australia but the scientifics didn´t want to investigate this report. The greyhound variant of this marsupial wolf? The chief of the expedition was Fernando Gonzalez Sitges (Explora Films)"
Video synopsis The video begins with three people discussing the alleged footage of a thylacine-like animal. The English translation of the text is as follows:
"Journalist – You’ve been some time ago in Australia and you’ve managed to film an animal that is considered extinct?
Fernando González Sitges (Zoologist) – Well, it was two years ago, but I’m still waiting for the true experts' analysis. This was what happened; we were filming with two groups. I was in the north filming sea animals, and sent a cameraman to Tasmania, to finish a film about the thylacine habitat, follow its "footspets", since Tasmania was the perfect spot to tell the story.
When we met again, he said he had found nothing in Tasmania , but by coincidence in the place where I was, he had a filmed a strange dog, maybe a dingo, eating a wallaby (which is a small kangaroo). I thought that was strange, and when I saw the movie I was impressed… well the animal is this one (images of the animal begins) that is eating the dead kangaroo. The truth is that I have filmed Dingoes in that area and they’re quiet different…
Journalist – And what do you suppose it is?
FGS – Probably is, or could be a Marsupial Wolf, that’s an extinct animal, or really, that we humankind have pushed to extinction, since we’re the most destructive species; it was extinct in the begining of the 20th century, the last one has died in the 60’s, I can’t remember well, it was before that… anyway this is recent discovery…
Journalist – It could be, nature is very resistant…
FGS – Even in the 19th Century when the Marsupial Wolf was still common is Tasmania, and already extinct on the mainland, there were reports from the animal in this area, and also many of the mainland sightings from the 80’s until now, have come from this same area…
As you see it, they're not very sure! It is probably a sick Dingo or Fox, the face is strange, but it could be because of loose skin."
The footage of the thylacine is then shown. It begins with a short sequence showing a closeup shot of a wallaby or kangaroo bounding away from the camera. The sequence cuts to a new scene which is apparently taken at the same location. In the new scene, an animal (the possible thylacine) can be seen apparently eating away at the flesh of a dead animal, which is lying in the grass at its feet.
(From here on I will refer to the unknown animal as "the thylacine")
The thylacine continues to tear at the dead animal. The lower half of the thylacine is not visible due to the tall yellow-green grass. Neither can the dead animal be seen except when briefly a small portion of the dead animal rises above the grassline.
During the feeding, the thylacine moves about a little and you can see the top of its back (from in front), its ears, eyes and whole head at times. After several seconds the thylacine begins to drag the dead animal to the right of the frame, and the camera pans to follow the thylacine's movements.
The thylacine footage ends and the scene returns to the interview being conducted in a television studio. In the background there are large monitors looping the thylacine footage.
This is new footage to me and it is interesting to find it only a few days after its posting on the internet. The backstory indicates that no-one was interested in the footage at the time it was taken, in Western Australia, in the 1990s. As such, the slate is fairly clean on interpretation of the footage, although I would expect several key people would have already seen this footage during the past several years and formed some opinions.
One "caution" that comes to mind is that several advertising agencies engage in a practice called "viral marketing". Essentially this consists of professionally producing video footage which appears to be "homemade". In most instances some apparently incredible feat is captured on film, usually by apparent co-incidence, and the news spreads like wildfire - or a virus - typically via the internet medium.
Quite often neither the marketing agency, nor the advertiser is identified in the footage, and it is only through the rumours and hype that are generated that the truth comes out about the footage being in fact a marketing strategy.
Without any knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the alleged filming in the 1990s, I have to be aware to the possibility of this being hoax footage for some such purpose as viral marketing. Wikipedia notes that the earliest forms of viral marketing originated around 1996, putting that concept into the timeframe of this footage (taking the attached text at face value).
All that being said, let's examine the animal for what it's worth, as it is presented in the film.
It is interesting that the shot of the wallaby (or kangaroo) is not continuous with the scene of the thylacine eating something which is lying in the grass. Such editing may be seen to lead the viewer into thinking the thylacine is eating a wallaby, but of course this does not necessarily follow.
At the same time, if you imagine the scanario being genuine (take the video and dialogue at face value), it is not unreasonable to accept that a film crew was filming a wallaby, stopped filming, then by co-incidence saw a strange creature capture and kill a wallaby, set the camera back up and started filming once the prey had already been killed.
In addition, the scenerey behind the wallaby and the scenery showing the thylacine, do seem to match: the grass colouration and length are both similar; there is a greener patch of horizontally distributed grass nearer to the foreground which appears in both sequences, and the kangaroo bounds past some shrubs and sticks which lack significant foliage - similar shrubs do appear behind the thylacine.
At face value, the story behind the footage sounds plausible, and the scene showing the kangaroo matches the scene showing the thylacine. This last point is significant because it puts the footage either in Australia, or in a zoo where they let meat eating predators roam with wallabies. Of those two options I find the first more likely.
Turning attention to the thylacine itself, the picture becomes interesting. The first reasonably identifiable shot makes the animal seem more like a big cat than a thylacine. Subsequent scenes have the animal appearing anything like a fox, dog or hyena; it even brings to mind the possibility of thylacoleo.
Some very prominent features, are the significantly raised spine, large pointy ears and the eyes which are breifly seen in a few shots and appear quite small.
Some notable points about these frame captures:
In most frames you can see the very large, pointy ears. Frames 2 and 3 seem to show a very prominent spine. The animal may be undernourished. Note that there does not appear to be any stripe pattern on the animal's sides.
Frame 4 is the only capture I could obtain which might show the tail of the animal (the dark patch to the left of the animal). If this is the tail, then it seems very bushy and would best match a fox. Alternatively, this may be a part of the animal carcass on which the thylacine is feeding.
Frames 1, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13 and 14 all provide a good view of the animal's eyes. Frame 8 is one of the few frames showing any part of the animal carcass (at far left).
The lateral views (in frames 9 through 13) seem to hint at a striping pattern along the spine, but taken together with earlier frames I feel the pattern is more likely caused by the vertebra of the spine casting shadows.
Frame 13 seems unusual in that it makes the animal seem as if it has a broad snout - reminiscent of a boar, or possibly the teeth in thylacoleo. The cameraman's testimony that the animal caught and ate the wallaby would tend to negate a boar.
Frames 7 and 14 give the animal a very cat-like appearance in the face.
One peculiarity across all images is that the nose and mouth are indistinguishable. This is unfortunate as these could have proved quite diagnostic.
Comparison with a variety of species - click to enlarge
It may prove useful to look at the face of the animal beside other known species. The Gonzalez Sitges animal appears narrower than the others and this may be due to the camera perspective or the animal being malnourished. The ear shape and size seem to match the fox or the dingo quite well. Thylacoleo and the panther seem to have broader snouts than any of the fox, dingo or thylacine, and the panther may be excluded by its smaller, more rounded ears.
The thylacine also has slightly smaller ears than the fox or dingo and I feel the Gonzalez Sitges animal has larger ears than the thylacine. The fox and dingo both appear to have paler colourations to the sides of the muzzle and I feel similar markings can be seen in this and other frames of the Gonzalez Sitges animal. The animal also appears to have an unusual tuft of fur on top of the head, between the ears.
In light of the bushy tail, and longer fur on the head (which is absent in all but the fox), I have to conclude the most likely candidate for this cryptid is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). This is consistent with the cameraman claiming to have filmed dingoes earlier and feeling this animal was different. The ears seem larger than those of a thylacine, but it is really the bushy tail that lends most weight. Thylacoleo is not known to have existed in modern times, and although there are likely big cats living in Australia in the wild, the large ears again exclude this animal from that category.
It is a shame that the footage is so short - with something that unusual it would have been fantastic to take longer footage, and even to approach the animal in order to get clearer images.
The film is open to interpretation of course, and I would love to hear others' opinions!
The composite image was compiled from a variety of sources:
- Image A (Red Fox)
- Image B (Red Fox)
- Image C (Thylacine taxidermy)
- Image D (Thylacine)
- Image E (Thylacine)
- Image F (Gonzalez Sitges animal)
- Image G (Dingo)
- Image H (Dingo)
- Image J (Panther)
- Image K (Thylacoleo sculpture, courtesy Jeff Johnson)
I have decided to keep the name "Gonzalez Sitges thylacine" because it is that proposition - that it is a thylacine - which has brought this footage to the attention of the television program in question, and ultimately, all those with an interest.