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The animal, properly known as the thylacine, could be hiding in remote parts of Australia, according to wildlife biologist Nick Mooney.
Mr Mooney made his remarks in the wake of the rediscovery of a tiny marsupial called the crest-tailed malgara, in a region of Australia where it was believed to have been extinct for more than 100 years offers, a remarkable development which he said gave him hope that the thylacine, could still be out there.
Meanwhile he sounded a note of caution about the idea of cloning the thylacine, which was floated by scientists last week after the annoucement that they had successfully sequenced its genetic code.
Mr Mooney said the rediscovery of the crest-tailed malagra “feeds the hopes of a few of us” that its distant cousin the thylacine was still alive. And although he was sceptical himself, he nevertheless put the chance of the species not being extinct at “less than one third”.
He said: “At the moment Tasmania has less Tasmanian devils – a potential predator of thylacine young – because of disease than it’s had for perhaps hundreds of years. It has more wallabies than ever thanks to agriculture, less topical poisoning of carnivores, plenty of secure den sites and no direct harassment of thylacines.
“So by accident we have manipulated the place to suit thylacines. If anything like viable numbers exist we should have them pouring out our ears in a few decades.
“Given the numbers of trail cameras out there (probably 300 plus for all sorts of reasons) the detection probability must be creeping up.”
Efforts to find evidence of its survival are ongoing in Tasmania. Earlier this year an organisation referring to itself at the Booth Richardson Tiger Team unveiled grainy footage of an animal they claimed was a thylacine – although Mr Mooney himself said at the time that he believed it was more likely to be a quoll, another marsupial also native to the area.
Nevertheless, the search highlights the intense interest in the subject, with the news that scientists had successfully mapped the thylacine’s genetic sequence sparking talk of using Jurassic Park-type technology to clone it.
Mr Mooney said: “I call the proposed cloning clowning. It’s again all about how clever we are. The original effort was about developing bio-tech and used thylacines as a charismatic fundraiser.
“There is not a practical surrogate, devils being about one-quarter the size. Regardless, it would be the worst of freak shows and there’s no way it/they would be released.
“That’s the ethic I worry about, not the reconstruction per se. Unlike woolly mammoths, we did after all kill it off.
“The technology is legitimate and there are very rare animals with ideal surrogates that could be far more easily bolstered by cloning.”