The story of the last Tasmanian tiger needs to be rewritten. All thanks to a discovery made in a rather unusual place: a museum display case.
The Tasmanian tiger was once found throughout Australia. Then it started to disappear due to competition with the dingo and man-made changes in the environment. Having retired to the island of Tasmania and having become a prey for hunting, it became extinct in 1936 without leaving any traces. Or rather, so it was thought.
Other than traces, however: the whole body of the last Tasmanian tiger was in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which kept it for about 85 years without realizing it. In fact, he even sent it to various exhibitions around Australia. His gorgeous skin made him very popular.
The mystery of the last tiger was solved by Robert Paddle, a researcher, and Kathryn Medlock, one of the museum’s curators. The specimen had been captured in 1936 by a hunter named Elias Churchill, who had then sold it to the Hobart Zoo (the capital of Tasmania); the transaction had not been recorded because the use of traps was not legal at the time and Churchill would have been fined.
The tiger had survived in the zoo for only a few months. When she died, the body had been taken to the museum, which had placed the skin and skeleton in a display case.
The remains will remain there on display, with the difference – not irrelevant for the history of zoology – that from now on everyone knows who they belonged to.