Reading Passage 3
The Tasmanian Tiger
Is the extinct marsupial still roaming the Australian mainland?
A: Once found throughout continental Australia, as well as the islands of Tasmania and New Guinea, the large, carnivorous marsupial species commonly called the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf, is believed to have become extinct in the 1930s. At one time the world’s largest marsupial predator, the last captive Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo on the 7th of September, 1936, less than two months after the Tasmanian government had passed a law to protect the animal. However, since that time, there have been hundreds of reported sightings of the Tasmanian tiger in remote locations both on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania. In addition to eyewitness accounts, a number of sightings are supported by photographs and video footage of the animal, although this evidence is considered inconclusive. The thylacine, as the Tasmanian tiger is formally known, continues to be regarded as an extinct species by the scientific community.
B: The Tasmanian tiger’s scientific or binomial name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means “pouched and dog-headed”. In terms of its physical appearance, the thylacine is described as being a large, shorthaired, doglike animal, with yellow-brown fur, and dark, vertical stripes running down its lower back to the base of the tail, similar to those of a tiger. Its stripy coat earned the thylacine the nickname of Tasmanian tiger. While the thylacine’s body resembles that of members of the dog family, with sharp teeth and powerful jaws, it is, in fact, a true pouched marsupial related to the Tasmanian devil. It is thought that the Tasmanian tiger was predominantly quadrupedal, routinely walking on all fours, although captive animals were also observed as being able to stand on their hind legs and hop like a kangaroo.
C: Experts believe that the thylacine most likely became extinct in mainland Australia and New Guinea around 2000 years ago, largely as a result of competition for food with indigenous people and their introduced wild dogs, known as dingoes. At the same time, it has been theorised that a lack of genetic diversity in the thylacine population, due to physical isolation, may have been another cause. As far as the fate of the species on the island state of Tasmania is concerned, a number of reasons have been put forward to explain its decline and subsequent extinction. These include competition with dogs introduced by European settlers, the loss of prey species and natural habitat, disease and hunting. For more than a century, both the Van Diemen’s Land Company and the Tasmanian government offered financial rewards, or bounties, on thylacines that were killed, with a view to controlling their numbers to reduce attacks on sheep by Tasmanian tigers. Popular belief holds that the thylacine’s extinction in Tasmania was largely due to the efforts of farmers and bounty hunters killing the animals.
D: Despite the fact that most scientists consider the Tasmanian tiger to be extinct, each year dozens of unconfirmed sightings of the animal are reported from relatively uninhabited areas in New Guinea, Tasmania and mainland Australia by people from all walks of life. However, to date, there has been no conclusive physical evidence of a living thylacine population in any of these locations. On 24 April 1986, the New Scientist magazine made world news when it published a series of colour photographs of an alleged Tasmanian tiger taken by Kevin Cameron, an expert tracker employed with the Agricultural Protection Board of Western Australia. The pictures showed a grey animal with fawn stripes, partly hidden from view in wilderness surrounds. Subsequent examination raised questions about the photographs’ authenticity.
E: Recently, the British daily newspaper The Guardian, along with other media publications, ran a story detailing the plans of a group of scientists from James Cook University to undertake a search for the Tasmanian tiger on the remote Cape York Peninsula in Queensland’s far north. The expedition was prompted by a pair of detailed sightings, one from a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service, that appear to be both credible and plausible. While the vast majority of thylacine sightings are dismissed as cases of mistaken identity, where eyewitnesses are said to have seen foxes, dingoes or feral dogs, the Cape York accounts differ in one key detail. Both observers reported that the animals’ eyes shone red at night, whereas the colour of dogs’ and dingoes’ eyes shining in torchlight is green. In addition, the size, shape and behaviour of the creatures, as described by the Cape York eyewitnesses, were not consistent with those of other large species found in north Queensland.
F: The two James Cook University researchers undertaking the Cape York expedition, Professor Bill Laurance and Doctor Sandra Abell, have stated that they will set up more than fifty trail cameras in the area of the sightings, one to two kilometres apart, in the hopes of photographing a live Tasmanian tiger. Isolated, uninhabited and not very extensively explored, the Cape York Peninsula in Australia’s northeast is known to be home to a number of endangered species that are not found anywhere else on the continent. The traps will be baited with a scent that is attractive to predatory species, and the research team plan to check the cameras every few weeks and download the data, with a view to gathering photographic evidence of living thylacines.
G: While Laurance admits that the chance of rediscovering the Tasmanian tiger alive in north Queensland is very slim, given that it is unlikely that the species could survive in such low numbers, he believes that there exists a remote possibility of between 1 and 2% that the creature could persist in Cape York. Jack Ashby, manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London, shares this view. “It’s not impossible”, he says.
Reading Passage 3
You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 27 – 40 which are based on Reading Passage 3.