Northern New South Wales Mystery Animal: Is it a Thylacine?

Northern New South Wales has its own mystery animal stalking the streets and bush land. Many local people have seen it. When talking to friends they are often surprised to find that they too have seen it. It looks like someone has crossed a dog with a kangaroo. It is observed at night as locals drive their cars through the wildlife corridors that surround our homes. Fishing parties on Marshalls Creek have seen it, as have people relaxing on their verandah. Families pedaling their bicycles during the day have seen it. At first, they believe that the animal is a dog or fox. Closer observations reveal unexpected characteristics. “What on Earth is this?” they ask themselves.

Families have their own names for it. The Devil Dog, the Hound from Hell, the Ocean Shores Oddity, the Billinudgel Beast, the Mullumbimby Monster and the Byron Beast.

Perhaps these animals are just mangy foxes or wild dogs. Farmers and other rural dwellers regularly observe these introduced species. However, the descriptions sound more like an animal that is supposed to be extinct. The strange, waddling gait, the kangaroo-like tail and the brown bands across the back remind us of the remarkable thylacine. Like the koala and the kangaroo, the thylacine is a unique Australian marsupial with the female rearing two or three pups in a backward-opening pouch. It differs in that it hunts other animals for its food.

Believed to be extinct in Australia for perhaps 3000 years, it continued to survive in Tasmania until 1936 when the last captive thylacine died. Known there as the Tasmanian Tiger or wolf, it succumbed to hunting, habitat destruction and perhaps introduced diseases. It was feared that it may attack livestock but a recent study of the detailed records kept by the big sheep stations in Tasmania, listing the cause of all sheep deaths, found almost no evidence that the thylacine ever attacked domestic animals. It fed almost exclusively on small bushland animals such as wallabies, bandicoots and bush rats.

Since its supposed extinction there have been hundreds of reported sightings in both Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Some controversial photographs have been taken but no definite evidence has been forthcoming to prove the animal still exists. Scientists at the Australian Museum have been trying to clone a thylacine from a juvenile preserved in alcohol.

The reports that I have collected appear to describe the survival of a small number of these animals in the rugged wilderness of the Whian Whian, Nightcap and the Border Ranges. The theory is that over the years, the population has increased and now they are being observed in the coastal nature reserves. Like the Whian Whian Oak, the Wollemi Pine and other supposedly extinct species, there is a possibility that a most wonderful Australian has returned. Perhaps you will be the first person to photograph this animal and prove that it exists. If it is the thylacine then it should not be harmed as it an endangered species. It is even possible that you could find a dead thylacine, as there has been the occasional report of such an animal lying on the side of the road, the victim of a vehicle impact. Such specimens, if found, should be taken to the national parks service for identification.

It is not a dangerous animal and early last century in Tasmania it was kept just like a pet dog. Ancient cave paintings in Kakadu illustrate thylacines carrying dilly bags around the neck so it was a companion of Aboriginal people before the dingo arrived from South-east Asia. Because it is a carnivore, it is naturally cryptic, hiding in the vegetation to spring out onto small animals. It lives in small family groups that range widely over large territories. Perhaps it is long extinct and people are only seeing mangy foxes or dogs.

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