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The Tasmanian tiger may not be extinct after all

Recent sightings may indicate one of the most famous extinct mammals could still be with us. The search is on.

Tasmanian Tiger
Two Tasmanian Tigers, seen before their extinction in the 1930s.
University of Melbourne-AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The last thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, was thought to have died in a zoo in 1936, the victim of ignorance and neglect on the part of its keepers.

The carnivorous marsupial, whose range once extended throughout Australia, was already rare and confined to Tasmania when European colonists arrived in the early 19th century. Habitat loss, disease and hunting decimated the remaining population.

But two credible sightings of animals strongly resembling thylacines have scientists hoping the species might not be extinct after all. And if they are Tasmanian tigers, they've been hiding out -- not in Tasmania, but in Far North Queensland, Australia.

Researchers at Australia's James Cook University plan to begin the hunt for surviving thylacines this month, using 50 camera traps on the Cape York Peninsula, where the sightings took place. The project has the additional benefit of surveying other vulnerable species in the area.

We seldom have the chance for a new happy ending to an extinction story. Fingers crossed the Tasmanian tiger proves to be that rare case.