The Tasmanian tiger was hunted and massacred by the Europeans because it reminded them of the wolf, which they also almost wiped out in their own continent.
The devils disappeared from continental Australia, and have only survived by seeking refuge in the forests of Tasmania; but another, much bigger marsupial killer, was not so lucky. The last one was hunted and killed in 1930, and since then there has been no trace of them. Fifty two years later, in 1982, a warden from the Tasmanian parks service claimed to have seen one from his car, in a place which has been kept a secret.
We are talking of the thylacine, also known as the marsupial wolf, or the Tasmanian tiger. A solitary hunter of kangaroos, which stubbornly pursued its prey to exhaustion, and certain death.
The Tasmanian tiger was hunted and massacred by the Europeans because it reminded them of the wolf, which they also almost wiped out in their own continent. As always, the white men, in their murderous obsession, came with their shotguns, to shoot this wolf-like animal…or any other they found.
It all began in 1803, with the arrival of the first wave of settlers to this region.
For the majority of them, Australia was a second-class world, which they had a perfect right to mercilessly exploit, in order to get rich as quickly as possible, and then return home.
Jeff King is the third generation of those who stayed, and are still here.
His forefathers cut down the forests, established farms and, perhaps worst of all, brought with them their domestic animals, so different from the native species: mammals, some of them aggressive, some of them simply not adapted to these lands.
The Australian marsupials, which had evolved in isolation for over 50 million years, were helpless against this invasion of cows, sheep, pigs, horses, goats… and dogs.
Conflict was inevitable, very soon, the farmers accused the Tasmanian tigers of killing their cows, which in fact were the victims of disease, and the dogs, now run wild. The accusation spread, and very quickly everyone knew who was to blame for anything bad that happened on the farm – the enormous jaws of the marsupial wolf, which thus was a legitimate target for their rifles.
War began. The hunters killed Tasmanian tigers, and had their photos taken standing over the bodies, while at their side sat the real culprit.
No one seemed to realise that a unique species was simply disappearing, a species which science had not even had a chance to study.
Tasmanian tiger fur became fashionable in London, for gentlemen’s waistcoats, while the last survivors of the predators of Gondwana rotted and died in cages in zoos, where, given their nocturnal habits, no one was even interested in them.
One of the many wonders of evolution was condemned without trial to extinction.
But the arrival of the white man was not the only reason for the death of the Tasmanian tigers.
Fifty thousand years earlier, the ancestors of the Australian Aborigines had arrived from Asia; over many generations, they slowly spread south. Their paintings speak of a deep affinity with the creatures of the earth, an awareness of their place among them.
The Aborigines hunted the Tasmanian tigers, as they did many other animals, but maintaining a natural balance, never threatening to exterminate them.
They used fire to clear the undergrowth, and make hunting easier. And in this way, they changed the landscape of Australia.
The flames of the Aborigines were their tribal temple, their spiritual centre. They generally lived in harmony with their surroundings, but they made the same mistake as the white men many years later – they brought their companions with them.
The dogs brought by the Aborigines soon turned wild, leaving their masters, to go hunting alone, and competed with the Tasmanian tigers for .