Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Captive thylacine

The official extinction in 1936 on Tasmania of the remarkable thylacine (aka Tasmanian tiger and Tasmanian wolf - Tassie for short) Thylacinus cynocephalus, that tiger-striped canine marsupial mammal as big as a wolf but which could hop like a kangaroo and had a pouch like one too, is well-documented, as is its much earlier disappearance a couple of millennia ago on the Australian mainland. Less familiar, conversely, is the fact that during the Pleistocene epoch, ending a mere 11,700 years ago, the thylacine also existed on New Guinea. Similarly, whereas the chronicles of cryptozoology are fairly bulging with unconfirmed post-1936 thylacine sightings both on Tasmania and in mainland Australia, it is not so well known that modern-day reports of suspiciously thylacine-like beasts have also emerged from New Guinea, specifically Irian Jaya (New Guinea's less-explored western, Indonesian half), where such creatures are referred to by local people as the dobsegna.

A video of living thylacines in captivity (click here)

During the early 1990s, grazier Ned Terry visited Irian Jaya and procured the following details from local testimony. Rarely seen in daylight, the dobsegna generally emerges from its den in rocks or caves at dawn or dusk, to hunt for small prey animals. Its head and shoulders are dog-like, but its mouth is huge and strong, and its tail is very long and thin. Villagers claim that from its ribs to its hips it has no intestines (but this merely suggests that it is very thin in this particular body region), and that in this region it is striped.
Dorsal view of a living thylacine, showing its impressive striping

Needless to say, this is a remarkably accurate verbal portrait of a thylacine, from the canine head and exceptionally powerful jaws to the slender stripe-adorned hindquarters and lengthy tail. Moreover, in 2003 veteran Irian Jaya explorer Ralf Kiesel confirmed to me that since 1995 there have been persistent rumours of thylacines existing in at least two sections of Irian Jaya's Baliem Valley - the Yali area in the valley's northeast region, and the NP Carstenz in its southwest. The latter area is of particular significance because back in the early 1970s Jan Sarakang, a Papuan friend of Kiesel, had a most startling experience while working with a colleague in the mountains just west of NP Carstenz.

Taxiderm thylacine and mounted skeleton at Tring Natural History Museum, formerly owned by Lord Walter Rothschild (Dr Karl Shuker)

They had built a camp for some geologists near Puncac Jaya at an altitude of roughly 1.5 miles and were sitting by their tents that evening, eating their meal, when two unfamiliar dog-like animals emerged from the bush. One was an adult, the other a cub, and both appeared pale in colour, but most striking of all was their stiff, inflexible tails, and the incredible gape of their jaws when they yawned spasmodically. Clearly drawn by the smell of the food, the two animals walked nervously from side to side, eyeing the men and their food supplies, and approaching to within 20 yards. Eventually the cub became bold enough to walk up to the men, who tried to feed it, but when one of them also tried to catch it, the cub bit his hand and both animals then ran back into the bush and were not seen again.

Thylacines (Henry Constantine Richter, 1845)

Except for their seemingly unstriped form, which may well have been a trick of the moonlight, once again these animals recalled thylacines, especially with respect to their stiff tails (a thylacine characteristic) and huge gapes. Worth noting is that the thylacine could open its mouth beyond an amazing 120 degrees - far more than any true dog or wolf can do.

Captive thylacine, revealing its jaws' extraordinarily wide gape

Searches for the thylacine on Tasmania and in mainland Australia continue on a frequent, but habitually unsuccessful, basis. Perhaps it is time for Tassie seekers to turn their attention elsewhere - to the verdant, shadowy mountain forests and caves of Irian Jaya.

In my study alongside a framed print of an original thylacine painting by Rod Scott, commissioned by Australian Geographic (Dr Karl Shuker)


  1. Steve Schaper9 May 2013 at 00:30

    I don't know why there couldn't be different populations with different coat characteristics as with other animals.

    1. I think maybe the since the breeding population got so small, they mutated.

  2. Wouldnt it be amazing, I hope that it is true that Thylacines are out there. I honestly think they are better off if we dont rediscover them. Im sure that humans would just selfishly kill them off again trying to capture and display/exploit them. Thylacines Forever.

    1. Knowing humans, you're probably right. Nowadays, the only sacred thing is profit.

  3. These descriptions from New Guinea certainly seem a remarkable match for the unique thylacine. I wonder what effect introduced animals have had on thylacine populations there.

  4. I have seen some cubs on a property on the sunshine coast in Qld, viewed in the open drinking from a puddle on the driveway. Also a few second hand reports from nearby area, they are around but better not found.

  5. Anyone familiar with the 2011 movie "The Hunter" starring Willem Defoe? If not, I recommend it highly. Not only is the movie about a former mercanery hired to kill a thylacine, it is a compelling and often gut wrenching movie about man's redemption,a family's dire plight, and the even grimmer fate of the last thylacine.

    Jason Fonzo

  6. Karl,
    While Irian Jaya is certainly worthy of further thylacine investigation please allow me to play the Devil's advocate as far as Ralf Kiesel's anecdotal alleged early 70's sighting goes which apparently took place under "moonlight."

    The New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD)
    Is extremely rare even to the locals and native to the highlands of New Guinea.
    Wild sightings have always been of single dogs or pairs. No pack animal behavior has ever been noted in captive populations.
    While the head is fairly broad and the body duly muscular, the hindquarters are lean and the medium-length tail unlike in other dogs or wolves, is seldom "wagged" even when they are excited.
    The NGSD submission/play invitation is also unlike that of the dog/wolf play bow of forequarters lowered, rump high and tail wagging. The entire body is lowered to a stalking posture and an intent, staring gaze is directed toward the being solicited. Also unlike wolves or any other dogs they drop their ears forward and down, rather than folding them back against the head. They also have an "open-mouth play bite" not recorded for dogs or wolves, but seen in coyotes, in which the mouth is opened wide and later pressed over the neck or back of a "playmate."

    Having read extensively on thylacines I should also point out that I never recall ever reading any account where thylacines were attracted to the smells of human prepared food. But wolves, dogs?

    Don't believe I need to go even further, Karl. Animal behavior generally trumps human description...like the Buru!

    While you might read this account and think thylacines, I read it and think New Guinea Singing Dogs.

    1. actually there are many reports emphasising the curiosity of thylacines, and in particular females with cubs. I have read of instances of thylacines actively following humans along paths which seems to match the New Guinea experience. I'm sure if food is scarce this curiosity together with hunger could attract them to a camp.

    2. It is certainly possible that some alleged thylacine sightings may actually have featured singing dogs, especially any in which stripes were not apparently reported, but other sightings in which they were reported, combined with other thylacine characteristics, indicate thylacine more than singing dog - a creature that in any case was (when more common) well known to natives in its own right, to the extent of its characteristic yodelling cry even being imitated by natives as a kind of long-distance means of communication. See my new Prehistoric Survivors book, out shortly, for additional reports of alleged NG thylacines.

  7. We would love them to be alive, sadly they are long extinct.
    I think the most compelling evidence I heard was when some of the native people were asked if they have seen a Thylacine and they all say no. Some of them had spent a lifetime in the bush and still had not come across this animal. Sad but true.

    1. Clearly, the native people asked were not the same ones that were asked by Ned Terry and others mentioned in my article. For there to be a thylacine-like beast that even has its own native name is, I feel, indicative of something worth pursuing further via future cryptozoological field research. My oen belief is that if the thylacine still exists anywhere, it is more likely to exist in New Guinea than either mainland Australia or Tasmania. Only two photographs of ever been taken in the wild of the New Guinea singing dog, and we know that this form existed here in recent times and may still do today - an expedition seeking living specimens there is planned for next year.

  8. Dr. Karl, could you elaborate on the expedition mentioned above?

    1. Hi Kristy, The following is excerpted from a post of 5 July 2013 by Bec Crew on the blog 'Running Ponies', hosted by the Scientific American website:

      "Late last year, I wrote about one of the only photographs ever taken in the wild of arguably the rarest dog in the world – the New Guinea Singing Dog. The first was taken by Australian mammalogist and palaeontologist, Tim Flannery, in 1989, and the second was taken by Tom Hewitt, Director of Adventure Alternative Borneo, in August 2012. Almost impossible to find because they are both extremely clever and shy, wild New Guinea Singing Dogs have so far eluded every expedition to find them, including one that stretched over a month 20 years ago in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. And now that Hewitt has spotted one in the remote Star Mountains region of West Papua, it’s become apparent that the wild population has made the vast, dense forests of West Papua their home. This makes them even more elusive than we thought.

      "With Hewitt’s photo in hand, a team of researchers will be heading to the base of Mount Mandala in the Star Mountains region next year. First they will attempt to find traces of the wild population and non-invasively obtain tissue sample. Once they have genotypic verification, they will return to the area to try and capture a New Guinea Singing Dog, also called a Highland Wild Dog, and eventually infuse their wild bloodlines into the inbred captive populations.

      "Heading up the expedition is James ‘Mac’ McIntyre, a field zoologist and Director of the Southwest Pacific Research Foundation who, upon seeing Hewitt’s photo, raised enough funding to take a team to West Papua."

      For further details, check out the full post at: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/2013/07/05/expedition-to-find-the-new-guinea-singing-dog-the-rarest-dog-in-the-world/

      All the best, Karl

  9. From the fossil record, how similar were the thylacines to the tasmanian animal. Were then the same or very closely related?

    1. The New Guinea representatives are classed as the same species as the modern-day Tasmanian and mainland Australian ones.

  10. I think the problem with this is that they were adapted to hunting large kangaroos and those do not exist on the ground in Irian Jaya do they?

  11. They were not restricted to preying upon large kangaroos; also, there are plenty of wallabies, giant rats, and many other suitable prey species on New Guinea.