Tasmanian Tiger: The Extinct Dog-Like Tiger That Was neither a Dog nor a Tiger

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Our knowledge of extinct animals is conditioned by discovering their fossils. Using modern technologies and carbon testing, scientists can reimagine how those creatures survived so long ago and what made them go extinct. This can definitely help us protect endangered animals and better preserve our ecosystem.

In our recent articles, we have been primarily focusing on extinct animals. Some of them were famous, but others were barely known. Today, we are going on another adventure to explore one of those barely-known extinct yet exceptionally distinct animals. 

Today, we are going to learn about the Tasmanian tiger.

So let’s hop into it.

Tasmanian tiger

Australia is the world’s smallest island continent that is floating to the south of the Pacific Ocean. Humans and animals settled there thousands of years ago. But the continent was a complete mystery to the Europeans up until the early 17th century when Dutch Explorer Willem Janszoon landed on it.

Located 240 km right to the south of Australia is the island of Tasmania, with an area of 68,401 km². About 150 km to the northeast, however, New Guinea is located. New Guinea is a 785,753 km² super large island.

The Tasmanian tiger was native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. Based on its fossils, scientists believe it appeared about two million years ago.

It is not quite known when the population started to decrease. Some say the animal was long gone when European explorers arrived on mainland Australia in 1788. That said, some population still existed in Tasmania.

What is known for sure is that the last captive individual died in 1936 in Tasmania.


Based on the information scientists obtained from examining its fossils, they could tell what the Tasmanian tiger looked like. They also used the descriptions of the people who encountered it as well as some black and white photographs and films that were captured of the animal either in zoos or in the wild.

Although it turned out to be quite a distinct predator, the Tasmanian tiger was also very confusing.

First of all, it somehow looked like a dog and a red fox combined. But it also had stripes on its lower back and tail, which made it resemble the tiger. That is why it was called a tiger. In addition, some believe it looks like a wolf or even a hyena. 

tasmanian tiger LearningMole

The Tasmanian tiger had a big body, with males typically being a little larger than females. But apart from that, they did not look any different.

The tiger’s body length was 130 cm at the maximum. It stood 60 cm at the shoulders. The tail itself, which resembled that of a kangaroo, was around 50 to 65 cm long.

Adult Tasmanian tigers weighed between 8 and 30 kg, with males weighing 20 kg on average. On the other hand, females’ maximum weight was 14 kg.

The entire body was covered with short, dense hair that ranged in colour between white, light brown and dark brown. The lower back, as well as the tail, had an average of 17 stripes. These stripes used to be bald at birth but faded away as the animal grew older.

Despite its resemblance to the dog, the Tasmanian tiger did not enjoy a strong sense of smell as its olfactory tissues were not developed enough.

But the Tasmanian tiger had another thing in common with the dog: the strong jaw. Based on a 1933 film that captured one Tasmanian tiger, it was clear that it, the tiger, could open its mouth up to 80° showing a set of 46 teeth.

That said, the Tasmanian tiger’s teeth were not sharp enough to kill large prey, according to what scientists found out. This tiger also could not run as fast as any of the animals it resembled. On top of that, it had a strange movement, much like that of a kangaroo,  displayed by the tiger walking on its hind limbs only.

The only thing the Tasmanian tiger really enjoyed was probably a good sense of hearing. Its ears were rounded and 8 cm long. So the tiger could use them to locate prey easily while hunting. 

The Tasmanian tiger was nocturnal. It used to forage during the night and at twilight, either in the early morning or evening. During the day, it used to rest in small caves. Because it could not hunt large prey, the Tasmanian tiger fed on large birds that used to walk on the ground and flightless birds.

According to the observations of the people who encountered it, the Tasmanian tiger was quite shy and avoided any contact with humans. This is probably because farmers considered it a threat to their farms and livestock and may have attacked it.


The Tasmanian tiger could breed at any time of the year. However, the most common breeding seasons were winter and spring. Like the kangaroo, the female Tasmanian tiger had a pouch where the baby used to grow. Unless it was not fully developed, the baby  would not leave that pouch.

But unlike the kangaroo that could have only one baby in her pouch, the Tasmanian tiger could carry two or three babies on average and four at the maximum. Pregnancy lasted for three months. By the end of this period, naked, blind babies baby Tasmanian tigers were born.

The young were the responsibility of their mother. She fed them, cleaned them, and protected them until they grew stronger and independent.

The Tasmanian tiger used to live up to seven years in the wild. When it was kept captive in zoos, its lifespan increased to nine years.


Scientists believe the Tasmanian tiger went extinct from mainland Australia about 2000 years ago. But they are not very certain why this happened. This is because the Tasmanian tiger as well as the kangaroo already survived a catastrophe that wiped out 90% of the living things in Australia around 40,000 years ago.

So, what possibly could be harsher than a natural disaster to cause the Tasmanian tiger to go extinct?

Well, the population of the Tasmanian tiger most probably declined over a prolonged period of time rather than just disappearing entirely at once. Scientists believe that humans settling in Australia killed the tiger, most likely to protect their farms and livestock. They also caught the birds that the tiger used to feed on.

Scientists also believe that the Tasmanian tiger had to compete with the dingo, which is the dog ancestor, over food.

Gradually, the Tasmanian tiger numbers started to decline.

At the time, when it was clear that the animal population was shrinking, many zoos all around the world demanded breeding pairs. They were trying to protect the Tasmanian tiger from extinction.

However, even this did not seem to help much. It is believed that some diseases infected the captive tigers and caused most of them to die, eventually leading to their inevitable extinction. 

By the 1920s, the Tasmanian tiger had become rare. So the Tasmanian government tried to keep more breeding pairs captive to reproduce them. However, all their attempts failed.

The very last Tasmanian tiger in the wild was killed in 1930 by a farmer. Since then, no other individual has been seen. The last captive Tasmanian tiger, whose name was Benjamin, died in September 1936. It is probable the tiger did not receive enough care, which eventually led to its death.

Many scientists have kept searching for any living individuals ever since Benjamin died. Although that search continued for so many years, it brought back nothing. Only in 1982, the Tasmanian tiger was announced extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Let’s recap

Here we come to the end of today’s adventure, in which we discussed another recently extinct animal, the Tasmanian tiger.

tasmanian tiger LearningMole

Indigenous to mainland Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania, the Tasmanian tiger appeared on Earth millions of years ago. Although it is believed to have gone extinct in Australia about 2000 years ago, it survived in Tasmania until the 1930s.

The Tasmanian tiger was quite distinct in its body structure and overall appearance. Besides the tiger-like stripes that covered its lower back, the Tasmanian tiger resembled a dog or a wolf as well as a kangaroo thanks to the pouch the female had.

Scientists list many theories that explain the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger. These include killing the tiger, overhunting large birds, which were its main food, and competition with other dog species.

The Tasmanian tiger was officially extinct after the death of the last captive individual in 1936; however, it was not announced by the IUCN until 1982.

We hope you found this article interesting as much as we loved writing it for you. You can read more about animals and learn a lot about our outstanding nature by visiting the World Around Us page on our website. You will find dozens of interesting articles on animals, like Koalas, OstrichesSharksRaccoonsBearsRatsSheepChickensCatsPandasMonkeys and Whales.

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