Tasmanian wolf at the door

Driving down to the South West we visited Lake Pedder, Australia’s largest freshwater lake. It was once a natural lake of modest size. In 1972 The Hydro Electric Commission of Tasmania flooded the lake by damming the Serpentine and Huron River and extending the lake to its current size of 242 square miles. The project was opposed by conservationists and galvanized the green movement in Tasmania. Tasmanian premier Eric Reece supported the project and gave the following, appalling quote.

There was a National Park out there, but I can’t remember exactly where it was … at least, it wasn’t of substantial significance in the scheme of things.”

In 1972, the activist Brenda Hean and pilot Max Price were killed when their Tiger moth plane crashed. They were flying from Tasmania to Canberra to protest the damming of Lake Pedder; it was alleged that pro-dam campaigners had entered the plane’s hangar and placed sugar in one of its fuel tanks.

The flooding led to the extinction of the extinction of the Lake Pedder Earthworm (Hypolimnus pedderensis). Another victim was the Pedder galaxias (Galaxias pedderensis) a tiny fish found only in the lake. It is now extinct in the area but populations have been translocated to one at Lake Oberon in the Western Arthurs mountain range and one at a modified water supply dam near Strathgordon.

Lake Oberon

The flooding led to the extinction of the extinction of the Lake Pedder Earthworm (Hypolimnus pedderensis). Another victim was the Pedder galaxias (Galaxias pedderensis) a tiny fish found only in the lake. It is now extinct in the area but populations have been translocated to one at Lake Oberon in the Western Arthurs mountain range and one at a modified water supply dam near Strathgordon.

Sickeningly big business always seems to triumph over environmental or conservation concerns. Though it looks beautiful the lake leaves a bad taste in the mouth. There are pressure groups today that are advocating the draining of the man- made lake and the restoration of the original Lake Pedder.

Joe had told us of another local man, Bill Morgan, who had seen a Tasmanian wolf back in the 1970s. We tracked him down and he agreed to talk to us.

A sprightly 93-year-old Bill had worked for the hydro-electric company. He encountered a thylacine in 1979 but would not reveal the exact location. Bill was in a carfull of co-workers. They drove over a bridge and saw a thylacine in the middle of the road. Bill described the animal as ‘beautiful’ with sleek fur and stripes. It moved with stiff looking hindquarters. It left the road and looked back at them as it went. The group had it in view for six minutes.

His friend Max Macallum also saw a thylacine in the same year. The animal crossed the road in front of him as he was driving to his brother’s house.

Bill had recently caught up with his cousin whom had had not seen in decades. Amazingly, just eighteen months before the cousin and five other people in a car, had seen a family group of thylacines. A male, female and three pups crossed the road in front of them. It happened on the road to town in West Tasmania.

Bill had no doubt that the Tasmanian wolf was still around.

We visited a range of mountains in which the remains of an old osmiridium mining town was located. Osmiridium, a natural alloy of osmium and iridium was used mainly to make pen nibs. Tasmania was the world’s foremost supplier of the alloy. Only a few preserved shanties remain of the town.

We checked the camera traps and found only devil, quoll and other fairly common creatures on the pictures. The traps were re-baited with fresh meat.

We took time out to visit an artist called David Hurst. He is producing life- sized bronze busts of thylacine heads. He showed us his workshop where he was first carving the heads in wax. They were remarkable in detail. David thinks the animal is still with us and thought that the South West wilderness might prove a bountiful area.

We visited Jo again and we headed up to the hills again. He told us of finding the remains of an aboriginal hearth under a felled tree in the early 1970s. He believed that the hearth had been preserved there for over fifty years.

We met with Kathy Brownie, the proprietor of a local coffee shop. She had played a bit part in the 2011 film Hunter starring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O’Connor. The film sees Dafoe as a hunter employed by a pharmaceutical company to track down the thylacine. An unimpressive flick it is filled with scientific errors such as giving the animal a venomous bite!

Much more interesting was the small museum she maintained in the shop. Among the fossils and minerals were alleged casts of the hind foot of a Tasmanian wolf. It clearly showed the long carpal pad. The casts of the tracks were taken back in 1991 by a guy called Rusty Morley.

Kathy told us that in 1971 she was living in a mining town consisting of wooden shacks and very limited amenities.  She said that a bulldozer had uncovered an old thylacine lair that had the remains of prey animals in it. She claimed to have heard the Tasmanian wolf’s call on a number of occasions.

Upon returning to his home we found that seven pigs, escapees from some neighbouring farm, had chomped their way through Joe’s potato plants and were now making free with his pumpkin patch. I chased them out of the garden and down the lane with a mop.

As the expedition wound down, we returned to Launceston and visited the natural history museum there. We found it to be better than the one at Hobart. It covered the possibility of thylacine survival and had a map of sightings from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Why this had not been updated was anyone’s guess.

The next expedition was provincially scheduled for February of 2017.  

Each time I have returned to Tasmania I have had my conviction that the thylacine is still alive and well re-enforced. If I were a betting man, I’d put good money on the survival of the Tasmanian wolf. I think it is just a matter of time until definitive proof of the creatures’ continued existence comes to light. Maybe, by the time you are reading this , Tasmania’s most magnificent animal will have re-emerged from the shadows into official existence once again. Interestingly, shortly after I returned from my first search for the thylacine I came upon a very interesting book with a striking passage about the Tasmanian wolf. The Ocean Inside was written by Philip Hoare, Visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton and published by Fourth Estate in 2013. It consists of a number of essays on the world’s oceans and on certain islands. In the chapter on Tasmania, the author writes extensively on the thylacine and modern-day sightings. He finished the chapter with these words:

What I do know is that in one institution I visit, a curator lets slip a quickly retracted remark, telling me it is not their secret to reveal. It is clear from what this person says, or does not say, that this strange half-life limbo of an animal which may or may not exist may soon be resolved, in its favour. That history is about to be reversed. That the thylacine is no longer extinct.

If it ever was.”

Richard Freeman , eminent member of the Center for Fortean Zoology , he is the very definition of the cryptozoologist: an enthusiast, an adventurer, a writer, a free-thinker, someone who devotes his life to investigating the mysteries of the animal world, everywhere. on the planet. His latest work is available in particular here

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