“Paper Tiger,” by Brooke Jarvis. The New Yorker, 7/2/2018.
This is one of the many New Yorker articles I planned to skip, but a quick glance, and I was hooked. But first, I had some background work to do. Tasmania, I learned, is a fair-sized island off the southern tip of Australia with a population of about half a million (I had often heard of Tasmania but had no idea where it was).
Tasmania is thought to have separated from Australia about 10,000 years ago from rising water levels. It is now an island state of Australia. The name comes from the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who discovered the island in 1642. Australians refer to it as “Tassie.”
Then, what is a Tasmanian Tiger? It is a dog-like animal with tiger stripes on its back. It raises its young in a pouch like a kangaroo. It is known to science as the thylacine (uncapitalized). It was declared extinct in 1936 when the last one in captivity died, but hundreds of people have since reported seeing them in the wild, which is difficult because of the animal’s elusiveness. One reporter described a sighting as like seeing the image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast. A sighting requires a good imagination, but there have been many sightings, often by multiple people at the same time.
(The better-known Tasmanian Devil is an entirely different animal that deserves its name. The Devil is also rapidly dying out because of their habit of biting each other on the face which transmits a fatal cancer.)
In 1983, Ted Turner offered a prize of $100,000 for proof of the tiger’s existence.
In the past 200 years, more animals have gone extinct in Australia than anywhere else, including humans. By 1869, only two Aboriginal Tasmanians remained, a man named William Lanne and a woman named Truganini. Lanne died first and a physician stole his skull, and his hands and feet, replacing them with those of a white man. The physician went on to serve as Tasmania’s premier.
A pouch made from Lanne’s skin ended up in possession of white residents. Clearly, Aboriginal Tasmanians were considered less than human.
Truganini died later, and a guard watched over her body until she was buried, but later her bones were exhumed and displayed in a museum along with taxidermied thalacines. As of now, the Encyclopedia Britannica defines Aboriginal Tasmanians as extinct, although many claim to be descendants of the original aboriginals.
The Tasmanian Tiger image has become popular in Tasmania. It is everywhere: on beer cans, license plates, and one town replaced its crosswalks with tiger stripes. The sightings have gone up over the years with the popularity of the image. This possibly extinct animal has become the symbol of Tasmania.
That’s the limit of my interest in Tasmania and Tasmanian Tigers. If you want to know more, read the article.