Hobart 1932: Thylacine

Hobart 1932: Thylacine
Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office
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This clip captures images of the Tasmanian tiger, alone in its enclosure at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. The thylacine is shown in close-up investigating the camera, pacing up and down its small cage, yawning, lying in the sun, and sitting quietly.

Summary by Poppy De Souza.

The small caged enclosure seen here in this clip stands in contrast to the large enclosures of today’s zoos and the change in attitudes towards animals held in captivity.

A clear profile of the tiger’s elongated body reveals its distinctive stripes, which give it its common name.

This footage contains some of the most widely seen moving images of the Tasmanian tiger, and was taken by zoologist and naturalist David Fleay in 1932. The Tasmanian tiger in this footage is thought to be the last living one held in captivity and died in 1936.

Notes by Poppy De Souza

Education Notes

This clip shows silent, black-and-white footage of a Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) in captivity. It was filmed in 1932 at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, and shows the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, in a small enclosure. The thylacine is shown standing, lying, sitting, moving around, pacing, scratching and yawning and was filmed in close-up and extreme close-up.

Educational value points

  • The thylacine featured in the clip was called a 'tiger’ or 'wolf’ by non-Indigenous Australians but it was really the world’s largest marsupial carnivore, not related in any way to tigers or wolves. It was rather shy and always avoided contact with humans. Incorrectly thought to be endemic to Tasmania, these semi-nocturnal animals once also lived in New Guinea and were widespread on the Australian mainland 7,000 years ago but died out there about 2,000 years ago.
  • The clip shows the last Tasmanian tiger in captivity. Following the introduction of sheep into Tasmania, the hunting of thylacines was encouraged by a bounty system of £1 a head from 1830 until 1909, while the arrival of domestic dogs and the spread of disease also hastened their decline. They were declared extinct by international standards in 1986, the only mammal to have become extinct in Tasmania since British colonisation.
  • As can be seen here, striped markings and a heavy semi-rigid tail distinguished the thylacine from other marsupial carnivores. Other features illustrated in the clip are its relatively large head, wide, gaping mouth and stiff gait when moving. Fully grown males measured about 180 cm from nose to tail tip, stood about 58 cm high at the shoulder and weighed up to 30 kg, while the females were smaller.
  • Because film stock at the time was silent, no sounds of the thylacine were recorded during the filming of this footage. In fact, thylacines were usually mute but they were capable of husky coughing barks when excited and terrier-like double yaps when hunting.
  • This footage is now recognised as iconic in Australian natural history and the thylacine itself has an enduring place in national mythology. Each year there are up to a dozen unconfirmed sightings of the animal in remote areas of Tasmania, while the National Museum of Australia has even investigated cloning a thylacine from the DNA of preserved specimens.
  • Like most zoos until relatively recently, the privately owned Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart housed its animals in small enclosures and did not try to replicate the animals’ natural habitats. The prevailing view was that animals were in zoos to entertain and to satisfy people’s desires to see rare or savage animals at close quarters. By 1910 thylacines were rare and sought after by zoos around the world.
  • In spite of their mythological status today, the last-remaining thylacines at Beaumaris Zoo were not a successful exhibit. Although rare, they weren’t savage and they failed to entertain. They were seen as boring, lazy and sad. This is hardly surprising as the semi-nocturnal thylacines were forced to appear during the daytime. Thylacines are known to have survived for up to nine years in zoos but were never bred in captivity. This last thylacine died in the Zoo in 1936.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia