Tasmanian Tiger - Overview of the evidence - 2021
It has been over 15 years since Klaus Emmerichs and Birgit Jansen shared the news that they'd photographed a Thylacine in the Tasmanian wilderness. That incident led to the start of the Where Light Meets Dark website and the critical analysis of photo, film and testimonial evidence for rare fauna. Since then I have analysed many incidents of alleged Tasmanian Tiger sightings.
In this article I list major Thylacine sighting events and provide an up-to-date summary of my present thoughts on each case. In some cases, my thoughts have changed a little since I first analysed the evidence - even though I haven't been able to publish individual updates on each case.
Alleged evidence for the Tasmanian Tiger
One by one, let's take a quick look at each of the major claims for surviving Tasmanian Tigers.
Adamsfield Thylacine - Tasmania - 1990
I list the Adamsfield evidence first because I am satisfied that this evidence supports the view that more likely than not, a Tasmanian Tiger was freshly killed, or found deceased, in 1990 near Adamsfield, Tasmania.
Composite showing the same photograph 3 times. The foot at the centre of the photo is of museum specimen C3149 at Museum Victoria. That foot is lying on top of a photograph. That background photograph shows the foot of the Adamsfield Thylacine as indicated by the red arrow in the left and right frame, and as traced in blue and labelled in the centre frame. Copyright: WLMD.
There are two versions of events - Col Bailey published an account saying one or two hunters accidentally killed a Tasmanian Tiger near Adamsfield in 1990. He had acquired two photographs showing only the feet of the animal, in his understanding at that time. He shared those photographs in a documentary in the early 1990s but it wasn't until the 2000s that he described the account in book form. Soon after his book launched - including one of the photographs, reproduced in black and white - the Thylacine Research Unit (TRU) published a filmed interview with Stan "Rusty" Morley who claimed that incident related to a Thylacine he found deceased in 1990. As such, one source claims the animal was killed and another claims it was found deceased, but both sources agree there was a dead Tiger and it was photographed.
Through my analysis of those images I drew the conclusion that the Thylacine feet depicted in the photographs actually belonged to a specimen Thylacine skin held at Museum Victoria, in Melbourne. However, on examining the photographs closely, it turns out the feet of the specimen skin were laid on top of yet another photograph before they themselves were photographed. In other words, the museum specimen was being compared with a photograph of a Thylacine foot. What, then, is this third photograph showing a Thylacine foot? In my view, that is the Adamsfield Thylacine. On reviewing high resolution copies of the two later photographs, you can see that in the third, background photograph, the Thylacine foot is lying on the ground, outdoors, with gum leaves - typical for the Adamsfield region - lying beside it. In my view, there can be no other explanation for that third image than a dead Thylacine being photographed in-situ, on the ground, outdoors.
As an aside, in the mid 1980s, wildlife biologist Nick Mooney published a summary of the Tasmanian Parks' two-year search effort for the Thylacine conducted following Hans Naarding's sighting in the state's northwest in 1982. In that summary Nick described several highly credible sighting reports he received during that time from the northwest of the state. He wrote that the evidence showed Tasmanian Tigers used the northwest of the state at least until 1982. Col Bailey, in his book, put forward a theory of a "corridor" along which Thylacines move - from the Huon valley in the southeast, through the Adamsfield area and Florentine Valley, across the Lyell highway into the central tablelands and west coast, up to the north-west. This theory connects the northwest location Mooney was investigating with both Adamsfield and Bailey's own sighting location in the central south / south-east of the state.
In 2021, a number of authors published new research which rated over a thousand sighting reports on their quality and then predicted a probable extinction date for the species. Using these data they also predicted geographical refugia - isolated locations within the state of Tasmania where the very last animals most likely survived. The statistical modeling predicted a 50-50 chance of extinction at some time within the 1990s or 2000s under most scenarios considered, but in all analyses it also allowed for a small possibility of the species' persistence into the 2020s. The chance is small, but according to their results, extinction by 2020 is not certain. The refugia predicted by this research generally correlate with the locations named by Bailey in his "corridor" theory and also include an isolated pocket in the northeast of the state. Taking Naarding's sighting, Mooney's search and conclusions, Bailey's theory and the current research all into account, the prospect of a live Thylacine in the Adamsfield region in 1990 is supported.
In my view the Adamsfield evidence is the most solid that we have which suggests the Tasmanian Tiger persisted until 1990 at least, with one specimen being photographed freshly dead near Adamsfield. There is sufficient detail in the photograph to conclude it shows a Thylacine's foot (and not a cat, dog, devil or quoll) and that it was photographed in-situ, on the ground, amongst gum leaves. There is nothing to suggest the location and date shouldn't be accepted - these have been consistent features of the story from all parties close to events, since the story first became public in the early 1990s.
Cameron Thylacine - Western Australia - 1985
The photographs taken by indigenous tracker Kevin Cameron in Western Australia in 1985 come second in this list because for all intents and purposes, the morphology of the animal shown (those portions we can see) best match the Tasmanian Tiger - regardless of how outlandish it should seem in light of there never having been an accepted mainland sighting of the species.
Composite image showing a cropped portion of one of Kevin Cameron's photographs (inset) on top of a historical photograph of a Thylacine at a zoo. In both images, the animal's tail has been traced. Copyright: WLMD.
There have been mystery animal sighting reports coming out of southwestern Western Australia for decades. The number of reports had reached such an extent that the Western Australian Government took steps to investigate the claims of Tasmanian Tigers. Indigenous tracker Kevin Cameron was contracted to search for the animal. After reporting progress with the search, Cameron did eventually submit a series of photographs purportedly showing a Tasmanian Tiger digging at the ground behind the buttress root of a tree. Only the animal's back and tail are visible and although it is striped, the stripe pattern doesn't generally appear to match what is known of Thylacines - both from Tasmania and from mainland records such as the Mundrabilla Station Thylacine mummy, which is dated at circa 3,000 years old but still retains its stripes.
The photographs were viewed by a number of people, including the directors of museums in various states. Some believed they showed a Tasmanian Tiger and some did not. The photos were also published in a magazine for the general public's viewing. Readers wrote in to say they believed one photo showed the shadow of a gun in the foreground and that they believed Cameron shot the animal. They also noted that shadows from trees within the images appeared to change position so much that the photographs must have been taken over a period of hours and that Cameron waited for rigor mortis to set in before completing his photographs. Pressure was mounting on Kevin to explain his photos but instead, he went underground with his story, adamant he had found a Tasmanian Tiger and photographed it as requested and contracted by the Western Australian Government.
In the 2010s I made contact with Kevin Cameron and having respect for my earlier work in analysing photographic evidence, for the first time since the mid 1980s he agreed to discuss those events with the understanding I would go on to write a new article which would critically analyse the photos and the account in detail. We held a number of phone calls and he provided much detailed information about many aspects of the contract he received to search for the Tasmanian Tiger. He described his progress over a period of months in tracking down the Tiger and he described the events on the day of the photographs in detail. From the outset - in the 1980s - he explained that the species is incredibly alert and the only reason he was able to approach near enough for the photographs was because the animal was engrossed in digging behind the buttress root of the tree.
Most critiques of his photographs concluded that they showed a juvenile animal, but when I conducted image overlays with historical photographs of the species, what became clear was that we were not seeing the rear half of the animal, but rather, the upper, rear quarter. Further, if this is true, it suggests the hind feet of the animal are almost certainly positioned lower than the ground level we see in front of the buttress root. Such an interpretation makes perfect sense in light of Cameron's information - which was given way back in the 1980s - that the animal was digging behind that tree root - and therefore was, in fact, standing lower than the ground level seen in front of the root. A further consequence of understanding we are seeing only a quarter of the animal is that the stripe pattern is actually quite similar to that expected of the Thylacine - as seen in the composite image shown here.
Ultimately, the evidence we have before us for consideration amounts to a series of photographs and the testimony of Mr Cameron. In relation to the moving shadows, I found during my analysis no basis to believe they had moved so much that hours had transpired between photographs. Rather, there was nothing, in my view, to suggest Cameron didn't take the photographs over a period of a few minutes as he first described. Although I didn't investigate the allegation that there might be the shadow of a gun in one frame, I have sometimes noted a feature that may well have been a gun itself - but I find the gun element of this story immaterial. Having spent many holidays in the country throughout my childhood, it was quite normal and common practice for people to own and even carry guns in the country and it makes no difference to the actual claims being made. In my view, the suggestion of a kill and rigor mortis are superfluous to the evidence presented. Certainly the shadows do not support the rigor mortis angle.
This is a most perplexing case. In my view, the animal's structural morphology is Thylacine. The animal's stripes are within expected range for a Thyalcine. While perhaps not every aspect of Cameron's account has been satisfactorily explained by him, I think the public response at the time was misguided with respect to the photographs taking hours, and by extension, that the animal had been killed and rigor mortis set in.
Of course, mitigating against the animal being Thylacine is also the fact that there are literally no accepted accounts of the Thylacine persisting on the mainland of Australia post European colonisation. The scientific consensus is that it went extinct there at least 2 to 3 thousand years before present, but there do remain anecdotal accounts of mainland Thylacines that are not summarily dismissed. Those accounts may be the subject of a separate article however, suffice to say there is probably enough evidence to pause for consideration the prospect of mainland Thylacine survival into the 1800s or 1900s.
For Cameron's animal to be a Thylacine seems incredulous, but the structure and stripes match. The account given - regarding the animal digging - also matches the evidence seen in the photographs. I could not say the identification is definitive - with every other possible explanation for the photographs dismissed - but I can also not say that we can summarily dismiss his account and photographs.
Doyle Thylacine - South Australia - 1973
To continue the theme of mainland Thylacines, we next look at the film footage captured by Gary and Elizabeth Doyle in 1973.
Composite image showing four still frames from the Doyle footage, used to illustrate hind foot shape (frame 27), tail, and kangaroo-like posture (frame 56). Copyright: WLMD.
Whilst driving into a camping park or similar, Liz and Gary Doyle had a film camera running - that being a Super 8 or similar model. Through the windscreen of the car you can see an animal running, from right of frame, onto the road and across the road to the left side of frame.
This account has been one of those to receive the most consideration from me with regard to critically analysing the footage. My impression of this footage built up over time - both as I conducted newer analyses and approached the question from different angles, and as newer versions of the footage became available providing higher resolution than the original video clips that were available.
Key features of the animal that seemed to support the prospect it might be a Thylacine include
- its running gait, which appeared quite awkward and perhaps reminiscent of other Tasmanian marsupials such as the Spotted-tailed quoll,
- its body shape - particularly if still frames were captured that gave it an almost kangaroo-like posture which is also seen in some still frames taken from historical footage of the Tasmanian Tiger
- its foot morphology, with the Tasmanian Tiger having foot and leg structure that is quite distinct from foxes and dogs
- its tail shape and the angle at which it is held - again reminiscent of a Tasmanian Tiger
- and the seeming presence of stripes on its rump
Throughout all of these analyses, my key conclusion was that the features of the animal that we can evaluate are consistent with a Thylacine but I also point out that we cannot categorically rule out all other possible species (ie. dog and fox in particular). Occam's Razor - in the absence of any accepted mainland sightings - would suggest one must accept the animal is more likely than not, a dog or fox.
During my early analyses I felt that the stripes may have been artefacts introduced into the footage by virtue of the MPEG encoding of the video file. Later, however, I felt they were features of the animal. Many people point to the tail as being like that of a Thylacine, but the skeptics argue it is simply a dog or fox's tail affected by the hair loss associated with mange. My view on these two features has actually changed since the time when I had conducted my analyses. I believe the tail tends to show a tuft toward the end that seems more appropriate for patchy mange than the tiny erectile crest of hair found on the very end of Tasmanian Tiger tails - I doubt a Thylacine's crest of hair would be visible in a film of the resolution available for the Doyle footage. Likewise, I have capitulated on the stripes - whilst originally believing they were film artefacts, I then drew the conclusion they were part of the animal, but I now believe it is also possible they are due to patchy mange, rather than a striped coat pattern.
The body shape, running gait and leg/foot shape are harder to dismiss. However the posture of the tail whilst running has frequently been described as Thylacine-like. Some years ago though, I was shown film footage of a Red Fox running where it held its tail in a similar posture. There is probably merit in examining fox footage further, to determine for certain whether they might run with a comparable gait.
Originally I described this evidence as consistent with Thylacine, but without completely ruling out all other species. The strongest feature in support of Thylacine which might rule out all other species would be the leg/hock proportions. However, ultimately I have since seen footage of foxes running in a similar manner to this animal, and I believe the resolution of the footage is inadequate to draw firm conclusions on features such as the tail (whether it shows patchy mange or matches Thylacine), stripes (likewise) and by extension, the footage is also not really adequate to draw conclusions on the leg structure. The animal's gait is certainly odd - but we have no reference material for a running Thylacine and it would be difficult to exclude the possibility of this animal being something else but carrying an injury that contributes to its unseemly gait. The flat feet and kangaroo-like posture are encouraging, but ultimately the quality of the footage is inadequate to definitively show the animal as being Thylacine. Occam's Razor dictates that more likely than not, it isn't a Thylacine.
I made contact with Liz Doyle during the 2010s with an offer to examine the original film reel frame by frame under a microscope in order to see whether any additional detail may be derived concerning the animal, but the offer was not accepted although as I understand it, the original film reel does still exist. The offer remains open.
Rilla's Critter - Victoria - 1964
Some might be surprised to see Rilla's Critter even listed for contention as the mystery animal snapped in a photograph allegedly taken using a Box Brownie camera continues to fascinate, more than 50 years after being taken.
Rilla's Critter - the Ozenkadnook Tiger - a cropped version of Rilla Martin's original photograph. Copyright: Rilla Martin.
Rilla Martin, of Melbourne, Victoria, was holidaying with her cousin Graeme Martin in Goroke, western Victoria, when she set out one day to drive around the country side. About 1 kilometre outside Ozenkadnook she saw an animal in the bush beside the road and took her camera, which she had with her, and snapped a quick photograph from the car. The animal then bounded off over a log and disappeared. The animal appears stocky - almost horse-like in its forequarters - and although it seems striped, the pattern is not consistent with what is known of the Thylacine and may well be due to harsh lighting and the shadows cast by the surrounding trees.
To put this account in context, there had been stories of a mystery beast in southeastern South Australia - just over the border - since at least the late 1800s. A couple years before Martin took her photograph, those stories were revived in the region of Ozenkadnook as a number of farmers and naturalists reported both stock losses to mystery animals and sightings of the creature. Martin's photograph appeared in the local paper, and then in a paper in Melbourne. She was interviewed for ABC news and a few years later, wildlife magazine Walkabout republished the photograph, although she was not credited. Ten years after the event, a documentary was made which tried to uncover the truth behind the image and both Graeme and other Goroke locals were interviewed.
A key question being asked ten years after the event was whether Rilla's cousin Graeme might have pulled a prank on Rilla - either by staging a cardboard cutout in the bush or taking a photograph of his own and slipping it in amongst the photos taken by Rilla. Apparently Graeme was known as a practical joker, but also had a strong reputation as completely honest in his work context.
In the late 2010s a bombshell was dropped when news columnist Peter Hoysted claimed the late news cartoonist Bill Leak confessed that his own father had staged a hoax using a cardboard cutout. There was no clear connection to Martin herself in Hoysted's explanation but he surmised she somehow agreed to be part of the prank.
In the early 2010s I discovered an early print of Martin's photograph was held at the State Library of New South Wales. The significance of the photograph had not been realised by library staff and it had been mis-described in the library catalogue (both aspects now being corrected!) The early print shows far more of the context than has been seen in versions published in early media or online since. At the present time I am preparing the WLMD website's first critical analysis of Rilla's Critter, but my early conclusions are provided below.
On first examination I suspect practically everyone will dismiss Rilla's Critter as being nothing like a Thylacine. On conducting my analysis however (currently in preparation), I conclude that the animal's structural morphology is consistent with the Tasmanian Tiger. Its stripe pattern, however, does not match the Thylacine.
In my analysis I also spend time considering the veracity of the account - might it be a hoax performed by either Graeme Martin or Bill Leak's father? In my view, neither of those explanations fit the facts.
If the photograph is not a hoax and its stripe pattern does not match the Tasmanian Tiger, but its morphology does, then we are left in much the same position as with Cameron's photographs - the evidence under consideration is photographic and the testimony of one person. In my view, Rilla's Critter to this point holds almost as much weight as Cameron's Thylacine. As with Cameron, for Rilla's Critter: I could not say the identification is definitive - with every other possible explanation for the photograph dismissed - but I could also not say that we can summarily dismiss her account and photograph. I would say there is more information and detail to suggest the animal in Cameron's image is consistent with - and even probably - a Thylacine, than in Martin's.
I would also add there is much we can learn about the interpretation of both photographic evidence and eyewitness testimony from the Martin account.
Emmerichs Thylacine - Tasmania - 2005
The Emmerichs photographs - taken in 2005 in Tasmania - were the inspiration behind launching Where Light Meets Dark as a website dedicated to examining the evidence for rare fauna.
One of the Emmerichs photographs showing the Tasmanian Tiger behind a foreground layer of foliage, at top, and a log, at bottom. Copyright: Klaus Emmerichs.
In 2005 Klaus Emmerichs, a German tourist, took two photographs of a Thylacine in central Tasmania whilst traveling with his partner Birgit Jansen. They had been on the road all day and in the evening Klaus was making his way from their car down to a stream to collect water. Before returning to Germany the pair visited Klaus' brother in Melbourne where they showed the photo to him. Having to return to Germany, Klaus' brother was left with the job of discussing the photograph with Tasmanian wildlife experts. Although the response from experts was initially positive, over time opinions changed. Klaus and Birgit did return to Australia at least twice more and maintained their story that they saw a live Tasmanian Tiger in the wilderness and photographed it.
The photograph shown here is the clearest of the two and both photos have faced serious criticism. There have been many points of contention but two of the most serious include the unusual lighting (with an almost lime or fluorescent green tint to both the foliage and the Tiger's stripes - or the space between stripes), and the similarity in shape and posture between the animal shown here and a Tasmanian Tiger photographed by David Fleay in the 1930s. The pair's back story has also faced criticism with some questioning how a Thylacine would have remained within view long enough to obtain two photographs, the photos seemingly out of sequence with other shots on the camera and why the pair would not hand over the original files for examination, but would only show the photographs on the camera's own display screen.
I met with Klaus and Birgit during one of their subsequent trips to Australia, in Mittagong, in rural New South Wales. We had dinner together and ample time to discuss the event, the photos, the way in which the pair had come to be in Tasmania in the first place (they had actually planned to travel to southeast Asia, but the Asia Tsunami of December 2004 disrupted those travel plans so they decided to visit Klaus' brother in Melbourne and then, on a whim, decided to travel locally to spend some time in Tasmania), why they had to leave without being able to address the photos with authorities and they also shared many stories and photographs of their travels through the central Australian outback on subsequent trips - photographing wildlife, dingo tracks and having incredible experiences with indigenous Australians.
During this meeting they also showed me the photographs on the back of the camera. A key defence in their story was that Ricoh - the camera manufacturer - confirmed that photographs found on the camera's internal memory could only be saved there via the action of the camera taking a photograph; they could not be copied to there from some other external means. The full story for why they thought this significant is that they claimed that during the course of that day the memory card (inserted into the camera) had filled up and so the camera began saving photos to its own internal memory. This was their explanation for why the shots were on internal memory rather than the memory card, as well as for why the photo had to have been actually taken, and not somehow constructed then copied onto the camera. This detail also explained why the images did not fit into a sequence with the images on the memory card. There were also issues with the date and time stamps on the images but this they explained as a result of traveling internationally - that the camera was originally on German time, including during their first days in Melbourne, but en route to Tasmania this was adjusted to a local time. Finally, the unusual lighting, they explained, was due to the camera having a "night mode" that produced these artificial colours.
In order to test some of these explanations, I purchased the same model of camera and researched the sunrise and sunset times in Tasmania on the day on which they took their photographs. Technically the sun would have just set at about the time of the photographs but from experience, daylight can persist for an extended period after sunset at Tasmania's southerly latitude. That said, under tree cover, it would have been fairly dark. In this regard the explanations remain plausible, but perhaps only just. I was not, however, able to get the camera I purchased to Tasmania to attempt to replicate photographs under the canopy of forest during such lighting conditions, using the camera's night mode.
Regarding the shape of the animal itself in the photographs - and the criticism that it is almost identical to the Fleay photograph - I can only say that it is not 100% identical, but it is very close. A skeptic might argue that if a photograph was taken of a cardboard cutout using Fleay's image, then any discrepancy might be explained by a slightly different viewing angle, or bend in the cardboard. Also problematic is that the apparent lighting on the shoulder of the Thylacine appears similar to that in the Fleay photograph. Ultimately my conclusion is that the two images are not identical but they are nearly identical - so much so that the veracity of the image is put into reasonable doubt; but that is also unfortunate because if we consider that it is possible to take a photograph of an unrelated Thylacine and have the two images near identical, it would be a shame to dismiss the result on this feature alone.
In case there was any consideration of the possibility that the images are the result of digital manipulations or drawing, I am content to dismiss that conclusion. A major focus in my analyses took into account that Klaus had stepped to the side between shots. This repositioning of the camera means that features within the image would have moved across the field of view - and objects closer to the camera would move further across the field of view than those which are distant. The final conclusion on that matter was that Klaus had photographed a real three dimensional scene.
Klaus photographed a real 3D scene. The Thylacine is almost identical to an image captured by David Fleay in the 1930s - including lighting on the animal's shoulder. There are many fair criticisms relating to aspects of the photographs including the unusual lighting, incorrect time stamps and fact they were not in sequence with other images on the memory card. While these details can be explained, it does take an extraordinary set of co-incidences to explain them all. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that these are authentic photographs taken of a live Thylacine, but one cannot conclude they constitute evidence beyond reasonable doubt.
Rehberg Tracks - Tasmania - circa 2008 - 2019
During one of my many hikes into the Tasmanian wilderness, I came across a set of pristine tracks that were consistent with Thylacine in terms of morphology.
Animal tracks in a thin layer of mud - showing forefoot (at left) and hind foot. Copyright: WLMD.
Whilst hiking in the wilderness of Tasmania, I came across a patch of mud through which a set of footprints was seen. Typically when I am hiking I am carrying a lot of weight and it is always a considered decision about whether to invest the time and physical energy to get down to ground level to take photographs and/or to take off the hiking pack and set down any other equipment, such as my SLR camera - which is always hand-held. In this case, the prints were immaculate and pristine. On my first cursory glance I dismissed them as being from a Tasmanian Devil - but this was done purely on account of their size and the smaller size of the animal's stride. Nevertheless, I took a sequence of photographs and much like the image here, I took close-up photos of pairs of prints with a scale in frame for measurement purposes. A couple shots were also taken showing most of the sequence of prints in a single frame - this is to give a sense of the gait the animal was using.
For some time I didn't examine the photos any further. It was not until as part of other research that I came across an unpublished document titled "Tracks", attributed by Heinz Moeller to Nick Mooney, which describes the tracks left by many mammals found in Tasmania. That document included written descriptions of how each species moves and illustrations of the footprint patterns left by each animal depending on its gait. On examining these illustrations closely, I determined that there was a difference in the patterns left by Tasmanian Devils and Tasmanian Tigers whilst using a walking gait. (It should be noted, the Tasmanian Devil far more often uses a bounding gait - but it does occasionally use a walking gait).
The main difference between Thylacine and Devil tracks when walking - as illustrated in the "Tracks" document - is that the Thylacine's hind foot lands ahead of where the forefoot was placed, while the Devil has the opposite configuration - the hind foot lands behind where the forefoot landed. Analysing the tracks that I'd found, I determined there were 7 clear pairings of prints in the configuration expected of Thylacine, and 1 pair in the configuration of Devil. As such, I drew the conclusion that these tracks more probably represented those of an immature Thylacine.
A detailed article was published on the matter with some aspects regarding location and date being kept private in the interests of protecting the species. Subsequently, however, a reader was able to show me film footage of a Tasmanian Devil engaged in the walking gait where its feet clearly land with the hind foot ahead of the forefoot. The implication from this video is that it is possible for Devils to leave tracks in the configuration I had found. On the basis of no confirmed live Thylacine evidence since 1936 - and the prints' small size - I had to conclude it was more likely than not that a Devil had left the tracks after all.
I would like to add a footnote at this point to say that in all fairness, the Tracks document did not describe the differently illustrated gaits as diagnostic for the species. Rather, key diagnostics include large print size (to exclude Devil, presuming the print shape in all other ways matches that of the Thylacine) and print shape. Unfortunately, the Devil and Thylacine have remarkably similar tracks - but my personal view is that the Devil has quite a characteristic hind print plantar pad shape and in my view the hind prints in the sequence I found are atypical in shape for Tasmanian Devil. In my final analysis, however, I have to conclude again that it is more likely to be an atypical Devil track than an extant Thylacine track. Additionally, although the Tracks document did illustrate Devil footprint patterns differently than was demonstrated through the video, that does not make the Tracks document incorrect - although perhaps not comprehensive in describing all possible patterns.
Ultimately I am forced to concede that these tracks are more likely to have been made by a Tasmanian Devil than a Tasmanian Tiger. There remains, however, one feature which gives me pause to consider the possibility they may yet have been created by a small Thylacine - and that is the atypical shape of the hind print marks. That said, as described in detail in the article, print shape is affected not only by the animal's foot pad shapes, but also by features of the substrate: its depth and moisture content being primary considerations. Prints are also affected by subsequent weathering, although that is unlikely to be a consideration with these fresh prints. Without any truly high quality reference prints available for the Tasmanian Tiger, it is essentially impossible to categorically define structural differences between their prints. In effect, and taking the other factors into account (substrate; weathering) I believe it is impossible to differentiate Tiger tracks from those of the Devil except by extraordinary size.
Rehberg and Bagshaw vocalisations - Tasmania - 2013 and 2017
In 2013 I heard paired "yip" calls as characteristically described of the Tasmanian Tiger. In 2017 I organised a joint expedition with Rob Bagshaw, who had been conducting his own searches, and chose a location based on that 2013 experience. Together, we heard two kinds of animals giving "yip" calls - one of these gave paired yips briefly and the other gave continuous single yip calls.
Photo showing direction from which I heard paired yip calls in 2013. Copyright: WLMD.
In 2013 I was on a multi-day hike deploying cameras in Tasmania's wilderness. After a long day I was resting and eating near my tent when I heard pairs of "yip" calls coming from either down in, or from across the valley beside my camp. Tonally they began harshly - like a dog's bark - but ended clearly - more like a bird's call or, I suppose, a different kind of dog's bark. What stood out was the fact that the yips were paired and there were only 3 to 4 pairs; actually, the last vocalisation was a single yip. Although I quickly pulled my phone from my pocket to record the vocalisations, they stopped before I could get the phone recording. Instead, I took the photograph shown here, so that later I could cross reference my camp location with this view in order to estimate from where the yips originated. I then also wrote down notes describing the yips.
In 2017 Robert Bagshaw and I agreed to conduct an expedition together. Robert had been carrying out many searches of his own elsewhere in Tasmania, and we had corresponded several times in order to bounce ideas back and forth about the best approaches to searching for the Tiger. I chose as our destination, the location from which I estimated those yips eminated in 2013. It took us a fair time to hike to the location and then we set up camp in the late afternoon. After sunset but before daylight fully faded to night, we heard an animal close to our camp that began yipping constantly - but with single yips - for a minute or two. We had actually already entered our tents but we both remained fully silent, listening to the animal and we both had begun recording the vocalisations using our phones. Once the animal stopped, we came out of our tents to discuss what we'd just heard and to estimate the direction from which it had called. From our campsite we spotlighted the bush around camp, searching for the animal. At this point Rob, at first, heard another animal vocalising in the distance - and these calls were paired yips; again, only about 3 or 4 pairs in the sequence. Although I didn't at first hear the animal when he pointed out to me there was a distant call, I took off my beanie (which was over my ears) and heard the last few vocalisations of the distant paired yips.
Our immediate thought was to wonder whether the nearby animal might have been a young one and whether the distant animal might have been an adult, responding to the calls of the first, across the valley. Ultimately we heard nothing further at this point and returned to our tents. However, some minutes later the series of single yips resumed near our campsite and each time they persisted for a few minutes - but between each series of vocalisations, the origin of the calls changed - first from the west side of camp, then the north, then the east, then the south, then the west again. It was as if some animal was encircling us and yipping from various points. We seriously had to ask ourselves whether the first call was from a young animal, the distant call was from an adult responding, then after a fair delay, whether the adult had crossed the valley to reach our camp (and the young animal) and then encircled us with some kind of warning yips to try and move us on from this location.
All of this said, the series of single yips we heard is unlike anything that has been described for the Tasmanian Tiger. We managed ample recordings of the single yips and analysed these extensively - including reaching out to several experts including Nick Mooney, Col Bailey and people whose professional careers involve working with audio recordings of Australian wildlife. The expert opinions varied - with those having a background in wildlife audio recordings suggesting the call was typical of the Sugar Glider, and those with extensive experience in the Tasmanian bush suggesting the call had been produced by a bird - most likely the Morepork (which at that time was known as any of Tasmanian Boobook, Australian Boobook or Southern Boobook, but has since been reclassified in Tasmania as being the Morepork - the same species as found in New Zealand and different to the Australian Boobook on mainland Australia). There was a lesser chance that it might have been a vagrant Barking Owl - a species not known from Tasmania. If it was an owl though, then the call was described as quite atypical.
Regardless of the identity of that species, the primary candidate for Thylacine evidence comes back to the two instances of paired yips that lasted for only 3 or 4 paired yips on each occasion. Those calls are consistent with written accounts of the Tasmanian Tiger. I discussed the 2013 vocalisations with both Col Bailey and Rusty Morley, both of whom claimed to have heard the Tasmanian Tiger give the paired yip call in Tasmania. Both agreed from my descriptions that the calls sounded like those heard during their own experiences. Both agreed that the location at which I heard these calls was an area in which they believe they had heard calls of the Tasmanian Tiger.
It is clear that this evidence cannot be regarded as definitive proof of the persistence of the Tasmanian Tiger. All the same, the calls do match what is known of one type of call given by the Thylacine. If the call is to be explained by any other species, then there is yet to be put forward any irrefutable explanation as to which species would issue the double-yip call. That is, quite simply, if it is some other animal, then which? We have no definitive record of any other species giving paired yip calls in short sequence, but we do have historical accounts that the Thylacine gave this call.
Of course, in this case I write as one communicating my own experience - I don't have to doubt my own experience - but to anyone reading this account they are, of course, hearing a witness testimony and ought to subject it to any reasonable test or estimate of quality. I am naturally encouraged by Col and Rusty's comments on my experience - that they both felt that what I described "sounded about right" (my paraphrase) for what they too had experienced in the Tasmanian bush and attributed to the Thylacine.
None of the above cases constitutes proof of the species' persistence. All may be considered claims of evidence that the Thylacine persists - and then individuals may accept or reject the evidence on the basis of whether it is believable beyond reasonable doubt.
My conclusions below are my opinions. I certainly have no legal training in order to suggest whether any of these cases might be considered evidence beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. Nonetheless, here are my views on the above accounts.
- Adamsfield Thylacine - I believe this is the "real deal". I believe the evidence is rich, detailed, consistent (notwithstanding cause of death), fully explained and supports the proposition that a freshly dead Thylacine was photographed in Tasmania, near Adamsfield, circa 1990.
- Cameron Thylacine - I cannot conclude that this evidence shows a Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. It does show an animal which for all intents and purposes looks like a Thylacine - as much as we can see. Unfortunately, the absence of any verified live sighting on the mainland in over 230 post-colonial years dramatically reduces the probability of there being live mainland Thylacines. This case might have been aided by clearer views of more of the animal - especially it head. Of the mainland accounts, this is the strongest and is primarily doubted on the basis of a lack of any accepted mainland accounts.
- Doyle Thylacine - I cannot conclude that this evidence shows a Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. For a long time I concluded it shows an animal consistent in morphology with a Thylacine. I now believe the quality of the footage is inadequate to categorically distinguish a mangy fox from a Thylacine. As with the Cameron Thylacine, the absence of any verified live mainland sighting in over 230 post-colonial years dramatically reduces the probability of there being live mainland Thylacines.
- Rilla's Critter - I cannot conclude that this evidence shows a Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. Although its physical structure initially appears to preclude Thylacine as a candidate, my current research (in preparation) leads me to the conclusion that its structural morphology is consistent with the Thylacine but its coat pattern is not. As with the prior two accounts, the absence of any verified live mainland Thylacine sighting in over 230 years dramatically reduces the probability of there being any live mainland Thylacine.
- Emmerichs Thylacine - I cannot conclude that this evidence shows a Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. While it is clear that the morphology and coat pattern are almost certainly Thylacine, there are many aspects regarding the photographs which raise questions concerning their provenance. Namely, these are the unusual colouration, their appearing out of sequence on the camera; the unusual timestamps and their remarkable similarity to a known historical photograph of the Thylacine. I cannot summarily dismiss these photos either as most or all of the criticisms may have valid explanations - but only through an extraordinary set of coincidences. There may be avenues by which the photos could be studied further in order to reach a more definitive conclusion.
- Rehberg Tracks - I cannot conclude that these tracks constitute evidence for the Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. Purely by virtue of Occam's Razor, these tracks were more probably made by a Tasmanian Devil than a Tasmanian Tiger. That said, if we imagine for a moment that the Thylacine was definitely extant, it would still be true that more probably than not these tracks were created by a Tasmanian Devil - but it would not be certain. The shape of the hind foot prints - which in my view is atypical for the Devil - is a compelling cause to hope for a possibility that these were created by a Thylacine, but the reality is that print shape is governed not only by foot shape, but also by substrate and weathering and therefore an atypical Devil print still remains more likely than an extant Tiger print.
- Rehberg and Bagshaw Vocalisations - I cannot conclude that these vocalisations constitute evidence for the Thylacine beyond reasonable doubt. On the basis of considering solely the nature of the vocalisations, Thylacine seems the most probable candidate. However, it is practically impossible to exclude the possibility of an atypical (uncommon or undocumented) call made by some other species.