Neil Waters is not out to prove that thylacines still roam the wild in Tasmania.
He says that it is “too obvious”, he doesn’t have to prove it. He is, however, determined to prove that the animal is alive and well on mainland Australia.
As a self-confessed nature lover, Waters had been interested in Tasmanian tigers since reading a book about them in primary school.
But it wasn’t until the South Australian native bought a property near South Mount Cameron in North-East Tasmania in 2010 that the animal made a real impact on his life.
Waters says he was stalked by a thylacine for about half an hour, while taking his dog for a walk through the bush. He said that, at one stage, he was at a standstill. He’d heard the animal continue to follow him.
“… the animal sat there, behind a clump of grass,” Waters recalled.
“I got closer, and I could see its head and its ears. I must have got a bit too close because it took off. But I saw its full side view, and it was a thylacine.”
Since that day, he has been determined to find undeniable evidence that the animal is still alive, in the hopes of bettering conservation practises.
He has begun a Facebook group, which has swelled to 6600-odd members, and started making a documentary. He is also crowdfunding to help support the documentary, and buying cameras to set-up among group members in other states.
Earlier this month, Waters found what he believes to be thylacine footprints near his South Mount Cameron property.
He’s cast the prints, and they are part of the evidence base he’s forming, alongside scats, found interstate, which are being sent off for testing.
Waters is particularly interested in proving the existence of Tasmanian tigers in South Australia.
It’s believed that the creatures once roamed mainland Australia, but have been extinct there for some time. The last known tiger died in captivity in Tasmania in 1936.
Last year, a video hit YouTube, which claimed to have captured footage of a tiger in the Adelaide Hills.
Waters has no doubt that there is a tiger population in the Hills, and said sightings there have been reported since the 1960s
“There was a sighting only two weeks ago ... by two people. They noticed the tail, and stripes,” Waters said.
“They’ve always been there, it’s just that the numbers are very low.”
Over the next few months, Waters and his team will be heading out into the wilderness.
It’s a good time of the year to try and gather evidence, Waters said – it’s joey season.
“We’ll be out looking for sets of juvenile prints alongside adult prints. When the ground is wet, we’ve got a much better chance of finding good prints,” he said.
“To pick up prints off of a sighting, that would be ideal. Then there’s no argument about what a thylacine foot print looks like.”
Despite being declared officially extinct in 1986, Waters said the animal lives on in more ways than one.
“...there are so many sightings, and so many people that are adamant, we keep the animal alive regardless.”