Are tiger tales a myth, memory, or miracle?

What is believed to be the last Tasmanian tiger, which died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
What is believed to be the last Tasmanian tiger, which died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.

There are several questions that can divide a dinner party with its answers.

From hushed silence to rushed raucousness.

But not many questions can provide answers as full of stories, tales, and intrigue as this one: Does the Tasmanian tiger still exist?

The thylacine is a symbol of one of modern Australia’s biggest environmental failings.

A unique animal, within 100 years of European settlement, the carnivorous marsupial was hunted to the brink of extinction.

It was a threat to the early settlers’ livestock, so a bounty was put on their heads.

If they weren’t shot on sight, they were captured and chucked in zoos – they were hot property for zoos around the globe by the early 1900s.

By 1936, what is historically thought to be the last Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo.

Fifty years later, with no official sightings or captures, they were declared extinct.

But there have been thousands of reported sightings of the creature over the past 80 years, in Tasmania and mainland Australia.

There are also thousands of sightings and encounters that go unreported.

Then there are those believers who are out to prove that the thylacine still exists.

This week, I spoke to one of those people.

Neil Waters shifted down from the north island in 2010, and bought up a block of land in Tassie’s pristine North East.

There, Waters says, he’s seen a tiger – even been followed by one – and has spent a good chunk of the past seven-odd years documenting every shred of evidence he can find on the creature.

He has, however, shifted his focus from proving their existence in Tassie, to mainland states.

He believes the evidence in Tasmania is just too overwhelming, he doesn’t have to prove anything.

I asked him why he wants to convince the world that the thylacine is still alive and well.

Was he worried that they would again be hunted, again, but for a different reason?

He said he hoped that if their existence was proven, it would make us think more about conservation and the environment, and preserving the landscape for flora and fauna.

The tiger is the symbol of National Threatened Species Day (September 7 annually – the date of the last known tiger’s death).

It’s a reminder of the devastating impact that human meddling can have on the ecosystem.

When it comes to the Tasmanian tiger, I don’t believe there are “two types” of people. 

There are two types, and then some – the believers, and the non-believers.

Beyond that, there are those who would like to see the tiger’s existence, if true, kept quiet.

Let the animal that has been hunted to the brink of existence live out its life in peace.

Then, like Waters, those who believe that shedding light on the non-extinct tiger would prompt us to think more about conservation and what we do to our natural environment.

Neither are right, and neither are wrong.

As for the million-dollar question, does the Tasmanian tiger still exist? 

We may never know the answer.

Then again, we may know the answer by next month.

Perhaps you already know the answer.

But as Waters put it: “Because there are so many sightings, and so many people that are adamant, we keep the animal alive regardless”.