Watch Last Known Footage of Extinct Tasmanian Tiger From 1935 That Was Just Rediscovered

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has released a newly digitized, 21-second-long newsreel clip featuring the last known footage of the country's most famous extinct predator—the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine.

Unseen by the public for 85 years, NFSA staff located the clip in a forgotten travelogue known as Tasmania The Wonderland that was filmed in 1935. It shows "Benjamin," the last known surviving thylacine in captivity, pacing around a small enclosure at the now-defunct Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart—capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania—just months before its death.

In the clip, a narrator can be heard saying, "[The Tasmanian tiger] is now very rare, being forced out of its natural habitat by the march of civilization," as two men rattle the cage, perhaps in an attempt to elicit a reaction from the animal.

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The recently rediscovered footage is significant given that it is one of less than a dozen surviving films featuring images of Tasmanian tigers, all of which were captured either at Beaumaris or London Zoo in the U.K. In total, these clips amount to just over three minutes of silent, black-and-white footage.

"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," NFSA Curator Simon Smith said in a statement.

Benjamin was the last known surviving thylacine in captivity, outlasting one that died at London Zoo in 1931. The animal, who was captured in 1933—passed away on September 7, 1936, a date that is now commemorated as National Threatened Species Day in Australia.

Before the rediscovery of the latest clip, the most recent known footage of Benjamin was dated to 1933. NFSA says the clip was uncovered during the Archive's ongoing digitization program to preserve as many its heritage works as possible, with the travelogue Tasmania The Wonderland one of the titles identified.

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"Curatorial staff became aware of the unique thylacine footage contained in this film when a resident research fellow, Richard Tuohy, undertook a very detailed analysis of all the NFSA's thylacine film holdings," Smith told Newsweek. "We were also approached by another trio of Thylacine researchers looking at some of our film holdings. Their interest in this film re-prompted us to prioritise digitization of this film for publication on our online platforms."

"No color footage or sound recordings of the thylacine are known to exist. However, given that in addition to Hobart and London thylacine specimens were also exhibited in several zoos around Australia and the world—Launceston, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Washington, New York, Antwerp and Berlin—we have hope that such materials might be discovered one day," he said.

Tasmanian tigers, also known as Tasmanian wolves, are among the largest carnivorous marsupials known to science. Evolving around four million years ago, they were native to the Australian mainland, Tasmania and New Guinea.

However, the species suffered decline, likely as a result of competition with the dingo and hunting pressure from humans, according to the Australian Museum. As a result, the animal became extinct on the Australian mainland by at least 2,000 years ago.

Nevertheless, it survived on the island of Tasmania—which lies around 150 miles south of the mainland—into the 20th century. Its decline on the island is largely thought to be the result of persecution by humans who considered it a pest and also introduced dogs.

Tasmanian tiger
The last known Tasmanian tiger at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Australia. John Carnemolla/Corbis via Getty Images

Although the last known members of the species died in 1936, Tasmanian tigers were not declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature until 1982. At the time, international standards dictated that 50 years must pass with no confirmed records of an animal before it could officially be declared extinct.

While there have been unconfirmed sightings of Tasmanian tigers over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, no conclusive evidence has emerged to suggest that the animal is still present in the wild.

Thylacine was a sandy yellowish-brown to grey and featured several distinct dark stripes along its back, which inspired the Tasmanian tiger moniker. Its large head was almost dog- or wolf-like, which is why it was also referred to as the Tasmanian wolf. Despite its characteristics being similar to tigers and wolves, it was unrelated to both.

Like other marsupials, female thylacine featured an abdominal pouch in which underdeveloped infants would grow after being born. However, thylacine males also had partial pouches—which protected external reproductive organs—making the species one of only two marsupials to feature pouches in both sexes.

This article was updated to include additional comments from Simon Smith.

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