Sorry, the extinct Tasmanian tiger has not been spotted in the wilds of Australia

One group thinks they've photographed an entire family of tigers, but a museum expert has dismissed the claim.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
3 min read

Surely not. The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, has not been seen since the last known animal died in captivity in 1936

Torsten Blackwood

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, is something of a mythic creature in Australian folklore. Unlike, say, the Chupacabra, it was a real beast, but the last documented animal -- Benjamin -- died in captivity in 1936. In the 85 years since, tiger sightings have been constantly reported in Tasmania, an island off the south coast of Australia. Claims are an almost monthly feature in the local press, but there's a bold, new declaration suggesting "not ambiguous" evidence for the existence of the thylacine. 

In a video uploaded to YouTube on Monday, Neil Waters, president of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia, claims to have rediscovered the thylacine on a camera trap set up in north-east Tasmania. "I know what they are and so do a few independent expert witnesses," he says as he walks down the street with a can of beer in his hand.

Flicking through images from his SD card, Waters claims to have seen not just one thylacine -- but an entire family. You can view the entire video of Waters below.

"We believe the first image is the mum, we know the second image is the baby because it's so tiny and the third image... is the dad," Waters says. "The baby has stripes," he notes, among a litany of other characteristics he provides as proof. According to Waters, the images have been sent to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

The video had racked up almost 100,000 views in its first day online.

Waters states in the video he has handed the images over to Nick Mooney, a thylacine expert, at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). A TMAG spokesperson said Mooney has now reviewed and assessed Mr Waters material on Tuesday afternoon, local time.

"Nick Mooney has concluded, that based on the physical characteristics shown in the photos provided by Mr Waters, the animals are very unlikely to be thylacines, and are most likely Tasmanian pademelons," TMAG told CNET. Mooney added the still images are "not so exciting."

A pademelon is a small marsupial similar to a wallaby, with very little hair on their tail. 

We've reached out to Waters for comment.  

With no confirmed sightings since 1936, it's hard to take claims like this at face value. The tiger was known to be a quiet and solitary creature, but in 2021 with the abundance of smartphone cameras and ever-dwindling places to hide, what has the tiger been doing all these years? Waters claims in the video the group shows the tigers are breeding, but more intense scrutiny is now underway. 

The Tasmanian Government's Department of Parks, Water and Environment believe any sort of group would likely suffer from inbreeding, making long-term survival untenable. "Even if there did exist a few remaining individuals, it is unlikely that such a tiny population would be able to maintain a sufficient genetic diversity to allow for the viable perpetuation of the species in the long-term," it writes.

"Nobody can adequately look at a video and say that's definitely a thylacine, without some DNA evidence," says Andrew Pask, a marsupial evolutionary biologist at the University of Melbourne. "We've got to have a hair sample, a scat sample, something that can back it up."

Pask has been studying how the thylacine is genetically similar to wolves and dogs at the University of Melbourne. "Nobody wants to believe that they're out there more than me, right?" Pask laughs. 

In Australia, there have been calls to resurrect the extinct creatures for over two decades. In 1999, paleontologist Michael Archer took over as director of the Australian Museum and committed around $57 million to a project that could clone the iconic marsupial from old specimens.

Updated Feb. 23: Added additional comments from TMAG and Nick Mooney. Reworked headline to explain thylacine has not been spotted.