Australia's Long-Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Might Still Be Out There

Mar 28, 2017 06:29 AM EDT

Tasmanian tigers, also known as Tasmanian wolves or thylacines, are believed to be extinct since the last one died in a zoo back in 1936. However, multiple sightings in northern Australia have scientists considering whether the animal really is gone.

Next month, a team from James Cook University will be mounting a search for the creature that's long believed to be extinct, according to a report from Telegraph. The researchers will be setting up 50 camera traps in northeastern peninsula Cape York in hopes of getting a glimpse of the Tasmanian tiger.

According to a report from The Guardian, while the last known Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, the species have been extinct in mainland Australia for at least 2,000 years.

This upcoming search was spurred on by a series of credible tiger sightings in the area. Former tourism operator Brian Hobbes reported encountering one while camping back in 1983.

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Former ranger Patrick Shears also told ABC News last week that local Aborigines regularly report catching a glimpse of the Tasmanian tiger, although they do have a different name for the animal. People have said that the creatures will occasionally venture a bit closer to humans.

"They call it the 'moonlight tiger'" Shears said. "They're curious. If you're not moving and not making a noise they'll come within a reasonable range and check you out then just trot off."

It's not so surprising that scientists are going out of their way to look for the Tasmanian tiger. According to James Cook University professor Bill Laurance who is one of the two researchers involved in the search, such a find would be a major discovery in biology.

"[Discovering a living thylacine] would almost stop the earth turning on its axis in terms of how big the news would be," Laurance said in the ABC News report. "It would be an absolute revelation and would change the way a lot of people think about a lot of species that we may have presumed to have gone extinct but possibly have not entirely disappeared."

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