Newly discovered footage of the last known thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, has been released this week by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
The 21-second video shows the thylacine, known as Benjamin, in its enclosure at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. It’s believed to be the last footage of the extinct marsupial.
It was shot in 1935 in a travelogue called “Tasmania the Wonderland” and was recently unearthed by a team of thylacine enthusiasts combing the archive material.
“The scarcity of thylacine footage makes every second of moving image really precious. We’re very excited to make this newly-digitised footage available to everyone online,” said NFSA curator Simon Smith in a news release.
The footage, not seen publicly for 85 years, is one of less than a dozen surviving films of the elusive animal, according to NFSA.
The narrator of the black-and-white video says the thylacine is “very rare, being forced out of its natural habitat by the march of civilisation. This is the only one in captivity in the world,” as keepers outside the bare enclosure rattle the cage.
Branden Holmes was one of three amateur researchers who identified the archive footage as part of their efforts to study the thylacine.
“We instantly knew that it was new,” Holmes told HuffPost.
Given there are so few known films of the creature, he said it was an incredible feeling to come across the video. Especially given it’s the first clip to contain audio, he said ― although it doesn’t have sound of the animal itself. Film with sounds of the animal, depicting the animal in the wild or of the thylacine in colour is yet to be found, according to the national archive.
“We didn’t think there was anything left to find. You know, the thylacine is such a famous animal,” Holmes added.
The discovery, however, was in some ways bittersweet. Holmes said it was upsetting to see the nocturnal creature exposed during the day for visitors to see.
“You can see just how bare the cage is. There’s concrete, wire and wood. And that’s it,” he said.
The new footage of Benjamin was shot one year after the previous last-confirmed date of thylacine footage. He died of exposure 18 months after this video was taken, on Sept. 7, 1936. That date is marked as the extinction of the species.
Holmes and his fellow researchers hope there could be more unidentified clips and urged anyone with historical footage of the thylacine to share it with their online community.
Rumours of the mysterious creature’s continued presence have swirled in the decades since its extinction, including most recently, in October last year, when a Tasmanian government document detailed eight separate alleged thylacine “sightings” between September 2016 and September 2019. The department said there was no evidence to confirm the claims.
The thylacine was often described as resembling a cross between a large cat, a fox and a wolf, and, as a marsupial, it had a pouch like a kangaroo for its young.
According to the Australian Museum, they were once widespread in continental Australia but became extinct on the mainland 2,000 years ago, likely as a result of competition with dingoes and human hunters.
Its decline in Tasmania, the museum said, is thought to be the result of introduced dogs and humans, who believed the animal to be a pest.