Saturday, October 2, 2010

Creature Feature: Thylacine

While we're on the topic of animals being wiped out due to over hunting, behold the thylacine/Tasmanian tiger/Tasmanian wolf (Thylacinus cynocephlaus):

That is not a cat, dog or mongoose. It is a marsupial. Yes, a marsupial, like kangaroos, koalas and wombats. It has no relation to canids or felids, but instead evolved similar adaptations via convergent evolution. Props to the Tasmanian devil for being a carnivorous marsupial; Looney Tunes probably saved its life. (Even then, having such an inbred population has its problems.)

And then he got cancer.

The thylacine filled the same 'niche' that canids and felids did elsewhere in the world. It was an apex predator, meaning that, as soon as it became an adult (with a possible length of up to 6 feet long for males), there was a huge sign saying 'do not mess with me' stamped on it. Like a wolf, it hunted in packs and ran its prey to exhaustion. For those of us with dirty minds, both males and females had pouches (use your imagination for what was in the male's pouch). It sounds so badass and familiar that it's really hard to believe that the thylacine's dead.

So, what the hell happened? Humans.

Not Europeans. Humans. Again, the 'native people' are far from blameless. Do not let James Cameron's psychedelic movie fool you. Natives can do bad things, too, namely bring over dogs.

Yes, this. Don't look at me that way.

Dogs ate what the thylacine ate...and then some. Although arguments can be made over whether the two species actually hunted at the same time of day or not (again, dogs can easily hunt at night), dogs + humans = game over for the thylacine. The Europeans brought over even more dogs and a few other weird, pouch-less predatory mammals. They also had guns, which screws every other predator over. In short, the thylacine lost its niche.

When two species compete for a niche, one invariably falls. That's why people are so mad at the Burmese pythons in the Everglades; they are competing with alligators for the natural resources in the area. Also, they're giant snakes, so everything is blamed on them anyways.

All right, we'll call it a draw!

In this case, however, the thylacine also went out for a LOT of the same reasons that wolves were targeted in the Americas. They ate livestock and competed with everybody's neighborhood dogs. There were huge bounties placed on the thylacine's head, much like a certain wolf bounty offered by a certain disgraceful politician.

You wanna know what would happen if humans had succeeded in removing wolves? The picture above and insane deer overpopulation. Removing apex predators is never cool. (It is, however, important to remember that the fauna SUPPORTING them was what made them badass to begin with.)

Despite its extinction, the Tasmanian Tiger/Wolf remains an icon in Australian culture. They still use it on stamps and Tasmania's coat of arms. Some people even claim to have seen living thylacines. Most people would call them crazy, but sightings persist to this day.

I don't know what this is, but the Kabbalist symbols make me question its credibility.

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