The remains of Australia’s last known Tasmanian tiger, suspected to have been lost more than 85 years ago, have been found in a museum cupboard.
And the discovery has also corrected which animal was, in fact, the last living thylacine in Tasmania.
It has been long believed that a male thylacine named Benjamin that died at Hobart Zoo on September 7, 1936, was the last known Tasmanian tiger.
However, now the incredible discovery in a cupboard at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s (TMAG) education office has turned that claim on its head, ABC reports.
The tanned skin and skeleton of a female thylacine had not been catalogued correctly which is how it took so long for the mystery to be solved.
But then researcher Robert Paddle and museum curator of vertebrate zoology Kathryn Medlock found a mention of the remains in a museum taxidermist’s report dated 1936/37.
The animal had been captured by trapper Elias Churchill and sold to the zoo in May 1936.
“The sale was not recorded or publicised by the zoo because, at the time, ground-based snaring was illegal and Churchill could have been fined,” Dr Paddle said.
“The thylacine only lived for a few months and, when it died, its body was transferred to TMAG.
“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success, as no thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and so it was assumed its body had been discarded.”
But the animal’s remains were actually used as part of a national travelling education exhibit – with nobody realising she was the last of her species.
“It was chosen because it was the best skin in the collection; we didn’t know then it was the last one. This particular skin and skeleton that we’ve discovered has rarely been on display,” Ms Medlock said.
“The arrangement of the skeleton on the cards allowed museum teachers to explain thylacine anatomy to students.
“The skin was carefully tanned as a flat skin by the museum’s taxidermist, William Cunningham, which meant it could be easily transported and used as a demonstration specimen for school classes learning about Tasmanian marsupials.”
She added the somewhat flippant treatment of the animal was partly due to the fact that at the time, it was not believed to be the last of its kind.
It was broadly thought there were plenty more in the wild, with the public even offered a ₤50 reward by the museum for someone to catch and deliver one.
“They didn’t really know it was the last one … and it is likely that there were still some in the bush at that time but as the endling, this is the last specimen,” Ms Medlock said.
TMAG director Mary Mulcahy said the last thylacine was now on display in the museum’s thylacine gallery.
“It is bittersweet that the mystery surrounding the remains of the last thylacine has been solved, and that it has been discovered to be part of TMAG’s collection,” Ms Mulcahy said.
“Our thylacine collection at TMAG is very precious and is held in high regard by researchers, with the museum regularly receiving requests to access our mounted specimens as well as thylacine bones, skins and preserved pouch young.
“Our thylacine gallery is incredibly popular with visitors and we invite everyone to TMAG to see the remains of the last thylacine, finally on show for all to see.”