South-west still dry despite La Nina

Rainfall to February 2021
Rainfall to February 2021

There were high hopes the La Nina would bring a load of rain, but the Weather Bureau’s three-month anomaly map for Nov/Dec/Jan 2020-21 tells the story.

The south-west’s drying trend appears to be continuing.

At least Tasmania didn’t burn this year (yet), as it did in 2019.

The Wandering Foxbat (an aerial video YouTube channel) toured the south-west after the Gell River fire, here’s their graphic footage showing the charred Tasmanian moonscape …

You can see some of this country before the fires on the same channel here …

Sad to think how much wildlife was lost, as there were three major wilderness infernos at the time.

Maybe these fires were the final “bullet” for the thylacines?

New study says thylacines died off in the 1990s. But they are still here.

Image and data from the thylacine study "Extinction of the Thylacine" Barry W. Brook, Stephen R. Sleightholme, Cameron R. Campbell, Ivan Jarić, Jessie C. Buettel
Image and data from the thylacine study “Extinction of the Thylacine” Barry W. Brook, Stephen R. Sleightholme, Cameron R. Campbell, Ivan Jarić, Jessie C. Buettel

A study of the more convincing thylacine sightings over the past 100 years found the species did not go extinct in the 1930s, as is the common mantra, but probably died off in the 1990s.

The researchers said there was a chance the animal still lives in Tasmania’s remote areas today.

As someone who owns a farm which borders the south-west wilderness, I can say two thylacines were alive and well in 2012.

But first, a quote from the study: ” … if the species is indeed now extinct, (this) occurred much later than the commonly held date of 1936. Indeed, the inferred extinction window is wide and relatively recent, spanning from the 1980s to the present day, with extinction most likely in the late 1990s or early 2000s. While improbable, these aggregate data and modelling suggest some chance of ongoing persistence in the remote wilderness of the island.”

Interestingly, the authors found that thylacine sightings or other evidence was reported almost every year in Tasmania. To quote again: “The final database comprised 1237 entries (99 physical records, 429 expert sightings), with observations from all years except 1921, 2008 and 2013.”

I had believed the animals were extinct when I moved to rural Tasmania in 2011, so it was a shock when two thylacines visited our farm for a short period in 2012.

If they were still around in 2012, having survived decades of bounties, bushfires, angry farmers and in-breeding, then they are probably still out there now.

Yes, it is hard to believe, but even in the early days of white settlement these animals were rarely seen, it was only the trappers that brought them into public view.

What’s more, with devil numbers at a historic low from the ravages of facial cancer, and prey animals such as wallabies historically abundant, there’s every chance thylacine numbers may now increase.

Thylacine studies have been wildly different in their findings.

One mob in the USA crunched the numbers and found that the chance of thylacines being alive today was more than one in 1.6 trillion.

Another scientist matched credible eyewitness sightings with ideal thylacine habitat and found a correlation so powerful he believed people were actually seeing thylacines.

The problem with thylacine studies lies in the saying: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

None of these studies include, for example, my own experience, and no doubt there are other witnesses who have not come forward to officially report a sighting.

Eyewitnesses don’t want to be ridiculed, some simply don’t want the attention, some fear that reporting a thylacine might endanger the animal, and others fear that proving the existence of thylacines would empower the Greens.

There may also be cases where these animals have been killed, on purpose or by accident. People aren’t going to report that.

So with all this missing information, researchers are left with only some data to put into their studies.

As I said, when I moved to Tasmania I assumed thylacines were long gone.

When two animals that yip-yipped like hyenas started knocking off our chickens at night I at first refused to believe they could be thylacines.

The animals came at least three times, though we heard the loud and distinct call between the two animals only once.

And yes, we have had quolls, devils and possums disturb the chickens. This was very different. They were not feral dogs.

I have obliquely mentioned the yip-yipping animals to locals over the years, usually to receive the equivalent of an eye roll.

Rather than “go public” with the story I decided to wait until the animals returned and set off my camera trap, so I could present real evidence.

Unfortunately, the animals never returned, to my knowledge anyway.

The chickens are fenced off now, so there’s no longer that incentive for thylacines to visit. We haven’t mysteriously lost any lambs or sheep over the years either (EDIT – we lost three tiny late-born lambs last year but there was a big devil around at the time).

The only local who took my story seriously was a chap who works in forestry, and he believed me because he thought he saw a thylacine at a remote forestry area, and he has seen footprints in these areas.

That’s data that’s also not in the studies.

Tasmanian Life