01x06 - Beyond the Jaws of Extinction

Episode transcripts for the TV show, "The X Creatures". Aired: 26 August – 30 September 1998.*
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Each episode involved Chris Packham travelling to a certain place on Earth where the creature supposedly exists, and examining eyewitness accounts, as opposed to searching for the creature.
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01x06 - Beyond the Jaws of Extinction

Post by bunniefuu »



september the 6th 1936

is the saddest of my life

the last of our wonderful thylacines

d*ed this evening


they are the most extraordinary animals

and our persecution of them over the

last 50 years has been appalling

the world population seems to have been

utterly destroyed


but at least we have been able to

provide a safe haven when it has been so

dangerous for them in the bush

in the last few years they have become

so rare that now this last one has gone

it falls to me

to declare that the thylacine

the tasmanian tiger

is now gone forever


have to see the ghost


the animal that ranger hans narding saw

in 1982 is no myth

the tasmanian tiger the thylacine was a

real animal

did its time run out in hobart zoo

it would have been an amazing blunder to

have driven these animals to extinction

they were first known to science in 1805

and yet by 1936 we seem to have

exterminated them

the thylacine was one of the top

predators of the australasian bush for

two million years highly adapted for

that habitat and that habitat is still


so were we arrogant to declare these

animals extinct just because the last

one that we knew about suddenly d*ed

well the rules of biology say yes we

were and ever since then reports of

thylacines have been coming in so could

they still be out there still alive and

yet ignored by science

100 years ago the thylacine was one of

the world's top carnivores

these were true hunters

they looked like wolves because they

were shaped by the same forces

both rely on chasing and biting


but they came from a very different



australia has many strange mammals

most are marsupials

and like the koala and the wallaby the

thylacine had a pouch for its young

these zoo animals were defeated

prisoners but they do show us the

thylacine's trademarks the stripes a

thin stiff tail and its distinctive

w*apon a huge gape capable of biting

across the narrow chest of wallabies

my guide to the known science behind

this animal is biologist eric geiler

they k*lled by grabbing their prey and

choking the auras crushing the rib cage

they alleged allegedly ate only the

choice parts of their prey they

drank the blood from the throat they

ripped open the body and

below the rib cage and ate the liver and

the lungs the kidneys and a little bit

of the inside of the ham tissue i've

seen a seen a prey that was k*lled by

one on the west coast years ago and that

was exactly what had happened

their nearest relative is still around

the infamous tasmanian devil

a mammal with a bite like a crocodiles

thylacines dominated these ferocious

scavengers but in many ways the story of

the tiger and the devil are inextricably


tasmania was separated from the rest of

australia 12 000 years ago

on the mainland thylacines were ousted

by dingoes

similar in size and shape

but superior in two very important ways

firstly they hunted in packs which was

far more effective and secondly they

could reproduce far more quickly they

can have litters of up to eight pups

every season whilst the thylacine could

support only four once every two or

three years


but dingoes never made it to tasmania

just 170 kilometers off the coast

here thylacines remained top dog

so the thylacines had a sanctuary until

two far more dangerous animals arrived


and sheep

tasmania's sheep population was 200 000

by 1821

700 000 by 1830 and over a million in


protecting these sheep became an

obsession of the landowners and on the

29th of february 1888 a national bounty

for thylacines was introduced

at a pound ahead

the extinction process had become


and there was worse to come

the number of animals taken in up from

1888 on was

up and down a little bit round about 100

a year then 1905 crashed down it went

with it with absolutely catastrophic

from about 100 animals down to about six

animals taken in the bounty scheme well

now this

it's believed that there was some sort

of a disease went through the population

it may have been plural pneumonia but if

you had a hundred animals been taken a

year out of a small population combined

with this disease it was just too much

for them and they have never recovered

recovered from

that but at beaumaris zoo in the

island's capital hobart an early

conservationist was at work

mary grant roberts a founder member of

the plumage protection league in 1910

was collecting live thylacines

and looking through the ledgers shows

how valuable they were the zoo runs on

shillings and pence until a thylacine is

bought or sold

they are worth 20 pounds

did mary and her friends do more than

just keep them in zoos

was there an escape committee moving

thylacines away from the persecution


in the late 30s there was a paradoxical

response to declaring the thylakin

extinct in captivity

finally they searched for live ones in

the wild

the job first fell to trooper arthur

fleming but his search was flawed it

assumed that the thylacines must remain

far away from human habitation so he

covered very remote but significantly

very poor thylacine country

but in november 1937 he did find tracks

in 11 places of at least four different


they were certainly still alive but

trooper fleming never saw one

and he was the first in a long line

eric gala took up the challenge in 1954.

the closest i've been i think was one

time on the west coast where we had

a shower of rain which lasted until 10

o'clock in the morning and a couple of

hours later we went past a mud patch

which had a fresh thyrosine footprint in

it without any rain spots on it so we

knew that we were within a couple of

hours of it

that was in 1963 and hans narding's

sighting gives us a living thylacine in

the mid-80s but what's the state of play


well that's the question so i've come to

investigate the evidence for the

thylacine still living at the end of the


thylacines were never very common even

at the turn of the century when tiger

hunters were out there people who were

paid to look for them day in day out

they only k*lled a handful and they

snared most of them they didn't actually

see them and then sh**t them

so if their actual counterability was

low then with a much lower population


it's not surprising that people don't

see them at all


but actually of course they do

one morning about half a six in about

around about november

i'd come around the corner and spotted

the tigers in the middle of the road

doing his business so uh i was i've

parked the vehicle

up there

and watched him and when he finished he

just stood up

looked at me and just sawed it off

down through this side of the creek

it was sandy colored

not as big as a labrador dog

and from his flank

down his tail that thin



and his tail was sticking straight out

when he stood up

his tail sticking straight up in the air

a little bit

this is a track he took

i reckon i followed him about three or

four hundred meters

and uh it started every thick so i got

out of it

and i saw didn't worry about us just

forgot about it and kept it as a happy

little secret


it's a charming story but nick mooney

has the tasmanian wildlife department's

official view the best evidence for the

continued existence of the thylacine

since 1936 is not good it's

really just eyewitness accounts

there's no hard evidence whatsoever

there have been some hoaxes which have

been uncovered and unraveled


we're stuck with eyewitness accounts

which on their own um you

be struggling to get a conviction of any


in a court of law so we have almost


stalemate so the first question for me

is could tasmania's countryside still

support a thylacine

it's a brilliant place

mountains plains forests and notably

lots of space

you know when you look on the map there

are huge areas which appear to be

wilderness and when you come out here

you're in the middle of it

but is all of this good thylacine


and when you think of it who knows what

good thylacine habitat is in the first


a combination of forests and open plains

seems favorite

and certainly most of the thylacine

bounties were paid in northern tasmania

launceston is the biggest town here and

evidence still comes in to former museum

curator bob green

this is one of

a number of sheep skulls that people

were bringing them and say

this thing looks if it's been sh*t

but the primary uh puncture marks

there's a pair there which have been

both made by the right hand tooth of the


the left hand tooth has broken the

eye bone around here

this is only a young thylacine skull

it's probably only about three quarters


but you can get an idea where the animal

was run up from behind and grabbed


the teeth have penetrated straight

through into the into the skull and



side of the eye

and also on the lower jaw down here you

can see where the the lower jaw has come

up uh from underneath and



piece out of here and there's been a

canine puncture there

so we've got

the picture of the whole

of the back of the animal's head

inside the thylacine's mouth where he'd

run up and just grabbed him and pulled

him down by the back of the head and

this is not an individual case there's

been a number of them such as this one

as well and several others which i have

which have all shown

capture in exactly the same manner

it's evidence all right but one thing

worries me

why would any predator bite into the

toughest part of its prey and risk

breaking a tooth after all the teeth are

the only w*apon a thylacine has

now if the thylacine has become a highly

secretive animal still living in small

groups its presence might affect other


so which species are lurking in this


the man to tell me is another great

enthusiast with new contacts with the

old bushies ned terry

yeah i think this will be a really good

spot here the uh

that sensor and the camera will line up

exactly where the animals come down that


it all looks very heath robinson

but in fact it's a great way of sampling

the bush wildlife

now we've got the sensor lined up

pointing straight towards the animal


we'll set this little movie camera up

alongside the sensor so that

also will be lined up

lined up

but what if the thylacine doesn't run

along game trails like this

well at least ned's film shows us what

is out there


possum a devil another devil two devils

went across there then

see then the

brushtail possum

and russ tower possum came back again

and a little potleroo what a lovely sh*t

not very common those little potters

another possum

there's always a nervous area of

expectation the old adrenaline and after

all the work you do and carrying things

into the bush and back of the cords and


wait for the film to come back and then

see what's on the screen here it's just

a it's a very exciting business because

look there's a possum going very quietly


but no thyrosine no

we haven't got any royal highness yet

that's the one we want

keep on trying and one of these days uh

something might happen and uh want to

make a mistake and come in close to the


but do animals hunted to the brink of

extinction by man make mistakes like


well there's a story from southwest

tasmania when this might just have


carl bailey is a journalist who collects

stories from the outback and in 1991 he

came across this one

hi psycho how long have you been at this

then a long time 28 or 9 years

and of all that time i reckon the very

best evidence i've got to support the

theory that thylacine still lives is in

this fadi

this came from

down in the southwest of the state

and it's an actual thylacine foot

uh that was sh*t in 1991. now as proof

have a look there and you'll see

raw skin yeah so that proves that those

feet are fresh they're not a museum

specimen everything's fresh and and new

of all the field evidence that i've

collected over the

28-9 years that would be absolutely the

best proof that i've got

so what's the story behind that


two guys living out in the bush come

across a dog-like animal

it opens its huge mouth

utters an eerie shrill shriek

and they sh**t it

only afterwards realizing what they've


and this is where it happened way off

the beaten track

now this

is a typical thylacine habitat

you've got the

the broad open plain with button grass

and sedge land

you've got the

hillsides that offer cover and this is a

typical south west tiger habitat covered

with wallaby overnight and it's a

typical area where you expect to find

the thyroid

so carl we've got some fantastic habitat

here ideal for thylacines but we've just

got a photograph of some feet i can't

believe the guy didn't photograph the

head or the body why is it that people

are always so reticent so secretive

about their thylacine sightings

personally if i found one i'd get the

evidence and leave it there and get out

but not everyone thinks the same there

are certain people who cheated on site

and these are the ones the government

targets when they say that they'll


or even jail

anyone who tries to catch or catches the

tasmanian tiger


so the legal angle on this animal is

complex and it might just be helping it

stay hidden

the still suitable habitat here but

there would have to be hundreds of

thylacines to keep a population going

things have changed a lot in tasmania

since 1936

but there are still under 500 000 people


and the trappers who took almost 10 000

wild animals each month are long gone

so the thylacine's prey is returning and

tasmanian devils are already taking

advantage so have they taken over from

the tiger or are they disposing of the

evidence of tiger kills

you know it's odd there's no research

program looking for the thylacine

yet it's a cultural icon here

there's no doubt that this is a

fabulously romantic story but you know

it's a lot harder to prove that an

animal doesn't exist than that it does

and for the guys involved in this chase

this mystery maybe they don't want to

find it that would be the end of their


but then what about the scientists why

is their active search for the thylacine

come to an end

well if the trail is cold in tasmania is

there another option

here's something amazing sh*t by liz and

gary doyle in 1973 in south australia

it looks like a thylacine it has a

straight tail and stripes but it's on

the mainland so it can't be part of a

natural population

could it have been planted here

jillian sandra sega had a similar


this is the animal i saw on september

the 8th of 97.


its head was sharp

a bit like my

whippets and i thought at first perhaps

it's some sort of a greyhound

and then that just didn't make sense

because it was very stretched out sort

of a greyhound and perhaps not as tall

and then of course what i'd been seeing

at the same time were these amazing

stripes that

six six or seven just sort of jumped out

at me

they were very dark and they were the

most amazing um

just came to this tapered point like

blades of grass

but i've got no recollection of seeing

any on the tail

and that's really the drawing


and that's the colored illustration that

i've done

oh it's a nice piece of work i have to

say and it is it is a thyrosine without

doubt but what i have a question

is there any chance that lurking in your

subconscious could have been images of

thylacine that you'd seen from films and

other pictures and you're an artist you

look at things in detail and then you

might have transferred those onto

another type of animal i had a childhood

image obviously of the thousand which

had stripes

but this the things that i've drawn that

i saw on that particular animal

that's not knowledge that i had it's

intriguing and the place where she saw

it is equally fascinating

wilson's promontory a peninsula east of

melbourne at the turn of the century 23

new species of animal were released here

and rumors persist that they included

the thylacine secretly shipped from

tasmania by mary grant roberts or her


but a visit to the area reveals a

biological flaw

there is prey here but the promontory is

just too small to support a population

of top predators and now it's an island

in a sea of farmland


so let's stop the romance

and get back to science we've stabilized

the doyle's footage to get a clearer


obviously there's no one left alive who

would recognise a running thylacine but

fox experts have seen things like this

before european foxes either molting or

suffering from mange

now this species has been introduced to

mainland australia and i can't ignore

that solid biology tells me tasmania can

be the only home of the thylacine

so if they are still hanging on by a

thread how easily could they stay hidden

well in the forest north of melbourne

there's another animal which was

declared extinct for 60 years

ledbetter's possum the tallest flowering

plants now rediscovered these groups are

studied by dr david lindenmaier from the

australian national university

but they're still almost impossible to

see without some special night vision


there we are

now one of the drawbacks of this format

is that the pictures are always in black

and white the benefit of course is that

we can see things in very low light

levels even complete darkness so let's

see what i can find here

i think that if you if you just take the

take it up a little bit further

and then just off to the left a little


yeah that's it and you'll see a slightly


uh entrance hollow where the animals

come in and out of the tree oh they're



they're much smaller than i thought yeah

they're tiny and they move so quickly

and there's another one coming out now

oh yeah yeah look at that

it's amazing isn't it how many of them

could be in there

anything up to 12 12 12 animals yeah

it's amazing this off as well

see how quickly

i'm just going to try and call them in

so animals can remain totally invisible

in australia in this case simply by

being strictly nocturnal

but good science can sometimes bring

them back

even if we can't rediscover the

thylacine because it is or was a real

animal we can use museum exhibits to

recreate one


cyber scanning uses a laser to convert

the form of the body the skeleton as

well as the skin into digital


information and it creates a

three-dimensional computer model



combining the pivot points on the

skeleton with movement profiles of other

hunting mammals produces a moving image


a wireframe


and when the skin is added as well the

thylacine is complete


special effects technology can give us

an impression

of the real life of the wild thylacine







it's a touch of techno trickery

but there's also a chance for a real

living thylacine in sydney there's a

specimen with a future in the care of dr

tim flannery

now this is a very special little girl


she's a baby thylacine

and she's about 140 years old she was

preserved in alcohol in 1866

and that's given us a really precious

gift because alcohol preserves dna

fantastically well

there's a lot of i guess rubbish been

written about dna recently and bringing

back animals from a distant past like

dinosaurs i guess all that's in the

realm of fiction but for a species like

this that's only been extinct 70 years

where we have such wonderful material i

really think it's possible that in the

next century or two we'll have the

technology to take the dna from this

specimen and perhaps implant it in the

egg of a related species and again have

a living thylacine so whilst we were

responsible for their extinction we

might be one day responsible for their

resurrection yeah and it's just

fantastic to think that extinction might

be forever


so in death this may be life

this baby is in suspended animation

a dna time capsule

waiting for science to catch up with it


but what if the answer's not in that

bottle then what well you know i'm

pretty certain that thylacine survived

beyond the 30s probably into the 40s 50s

and 60s maybe even longer than that and

it's not too surprising that those early

searches failed to find them they were

animals then at a very very low

population level but you know tasmania

is a remarkable place there's still

masses of wilderness there's still lots

of potentially good thylacine habitat


why aren't we seeing them well perhaps

it's for the same simple reason that we

didn't see leadbetter's possum for 60

years they're nocturnal they're shy and

they're very very rare but you know on

tasmania today there's actually a super

abundance of their prey so i wouldn't

mind betting but there is just a small

chance perhaps a very small chance that

thylacines are still out there peeping

through the cracks in our knowledge


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