Lesson 6) It Came From The Land Down Under

As the students file into the room they immediately notice strange plates of food placed around the perimeter. Some feature small chocolate cakes covered in white coconut flakes, others have chocolate biscuits, and still others have small triangles of bread with a black substance smeared on the top. As the students sit down, a parade of sausages wrapped in bread levitates in an orderly fashion, followed by a woman with fiery hair. She enters the room, stopping by the plate of tar covered triangles, placing two on a plate, and plucking a bread-wrapped sausage from the air. She places her plate on the desk beside her bag and climbs atop the large wooden desk, folding her legs. With a flick of her wand, she lights the candles at the rear of the room and extinguishes those at the front.

Ahhh, welcome! I am so pleased to be a part of this theme week, and I am sure you are enjoying the lessons as much as the professors! Today, we venture into the land “down under,” that strange and generally backwards country known as Australia. I’ve provided an array of delicacies from Australia, so do feel free to munch! What you have in front of you are known Tim Tams, Lamingtons, Vegemite toasts, and the iconic sausage on bread! Now, with atmosphere set, let us begin!

My name, in case you were wondering, is Octavia Proctor. I worked in these very halls as Hogwarts’ Divination professor before I accepted a position at the Ministry of Magic as one of their investigative seers. Both opportunities have been extremely rewarding, though I confess, I always look forward to having the opportunity to venture back into the classroom for a time. But, enough about me. On with the lesson!

As I am sure you are aware, this Creature Feature focuses on prehistoric and extinct animals. Today’s creature is a little different, but I will explain that as the lesson progresses! For those of you who have the week’s outline handy, you will see that today’s creature is the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, a beast that calls Australia home. Now before you imagine a large tiger akin to those we see in zoos today, the thylacine is quite different than what you would expect! 

So, let us sit back with our strange snacks and venture to the land of creatures that are cute and cuddly, but want you to die a slow and painful death! 

Lions and Tigers and Bears?

Well, not exactly. Australia is known for its strange creatures, some of which seem to be spliced from a few different species and sewn together into some kind of genetic joke. Just look at the platypus, and you will see what I mean! But in all honesty, the fauna found within Australia is quite unique and much loved. One creature that Muggles believe is no longer part of the Australian landscape is the thylacine. While popularly known as a tiger, it is actually more wolf-, dog-, or even cat-like in appearance. Found within Australia and Papua New Guinea, the thylacine was once the largest carnivorous predator of the Australasian continent. 

Tasmania, shown in red, is the most well known thylacine environment, however fossilised thylacine remains have been found Australia wide. 

With ancestors of the species, such as the Thylacinus cynocephalus (the scientific name believed to equate to ‘dog headed pouched dog’), dating back as far as 30 million years ago, the thylacine had numerous breeds; however, by eight million years ago, only one remained, the breed known as Thylacinus potens. Muggles believe that the thylacine was a victim of agricultural advancement and destruction of native environments, leading to its extinction; however, we will discuss this further towards the end of our lesson. 

A thylacine hunting 

Looks Like a Dog or Wolf...But Moves Like a Kangaroo?

Sandy brown or grey in colour and standing about 58 cm (two feet for those of you used to the imperial system) tall at the shoulder and about 180 cm (six feet) in length, the thylacine is much smaller than the tigers in existence today. Weighing up to 30 kg, the creature exhibits between 15 and 20 dark brown or black stripes along its backbone, the stripes only being situated between the shoulder and tail. On their heads, the thylacine has short, pointy ears, and powerful jaws that house 46 sharp teeth.

An artistic representation of a thylacine and pup. 

Strangely, it is a rather quiet animal but is known to make yelping sounds reminiscent of those of a terrier dog whilst hunting. At times, the thylacine is also capable of making a cough-like bark, though this has never been recorded. As with many Australian animals, the creature is a marsupial, meaning that it has a pouch for housing the young pups. Yes, that’s right, a rear-facing pouch is found on the underside of both the female and male thylacine, allowing the young pups to hitch a ride in the pouch when required. This allows the thylacine to dig in the bush and scrub of the Australian environment without  unintentionally transferring dirt and leaves into the pouch. Of magical importance, the lining found within the pouch of the thylacine is an incredibly powerful ingredient in numerous potions of the Australian magical community and is also a wand core in some Australian wands, but more details on that later.

A thylacine stuffed by a taxidermist c. 1920. You can see the tail of the tiger and directly underneath, a second smaller tail. This is the young pup, hanging out of the pouch. 

Further mystifying details about the creature are the range of movements it is observed to make. As expected, the thylacine typically movs on all four legs, similar to the movements of a wolf or dog. However, records also describe the thylacine as moving on its two hind legs in a jumping motion, not unlike the way a kangaroo jumps. Known as a bipedal hop, the thylacine stands upright with its front legs in the air and rests its hind legs on the ground. To maintain balance, the thylacine uses its tail as a support, just as a kangaroo does. They have been known to hop for short distances in this position. In the following short film, you can see the basic behaviour of the thylacine in captivity. However, as with any other wild animal kept in captivity, this cannot be taken as an example of ‘everyday’ behaviour.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vqCCI1ZF7o 

For millions of years, the thylacine lived on a diet of kangaroo, rodents, and small birds, however with the European settlement (circa the 1780s), the thylacine later became quite fond of the farm creatures brought on the ships of the First Fleet. As the cattle and sheep of the farming communities were easy prey, the thylacine gained a rather unfair reputation as a dangerous predator, and the government of the day soon imposed a hunting bounty on the creature. What must be said at this point is that while the thylacine was essentially a predator and lived on a diet of meat, it was not actually aggressive towards humans. In fact, Indigenous Australians have detailed oral histories of thylacines being somewhat domesticated and kept as pets. The Arrowdales, a Tasmanian wizarding family who features prominently in the magical history of Australia, have photographic evidence of keeping a thylacine as a pet due to its unwavering allegiance to the hand that feeds it, which in this case was attached to  Mr. or Mrs. Arrowdale. Sadly, the Muggles of the time did not see this side to the thylacine and instead focused on the supposed danger.

Life and Times…

So what happened? Well, let us look at the known history of the thylacine, according to Muggles. After European settlement, the thylacine had a bounty placed upon its head. With each captured and killed thylacine fetching a payment of one pound, bounty hunters began to cull the creatures. Soon, a market for the unique pelt or coat of the thylacine developed, and it became a sought after commodity. Combined with the belief that the thylacine was a dangerous predator, this meant that the thylacine population decreased at an incredible rate. Records from the Australian government show that between 1888 and 1909, a total of 2180 thylacines were killed in order to claim the bounty upon their heads, while a further unspecified amount were killed to harvest the coat. 

Muggle man Wilf Batty with the ‘last’ known thylacine killed in the wild (date unknown). 

Sadly, another 500 deaths were also attributed to the magical community of the time, thoughthese deaths were publicly attributed to natural causes for the sake of magical privacy. The steady decline in numbers led to the ‘final’ thylacine being captured in the 1930s. Sad and lonely, it lived out its remaining days in the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania. On the 6th of September, 1936, a Muggle zookeeper by the name of Orville Harker was carrying out his final caretaking duties near the thylacine cage. This thylacine was affectionately known as “Benjamin.” Not focusing on his work, Harker forgot to ensure that Benjamin was locked away in the undercover sleeping enclosure before departing for the night. As such, the thylacine was left in the outdoor, exposed cage with minimal protection from the weather overnight. Upon arriving at the zoo on the 7th of September, the director of the zoo found Benjamin dead in his cage, believed to have died from exposure. Of course, this is according to Muggle knowledge and records, but the magical history is much more pleasant!

Going, Going, ...One?

I am sure many of you have noticed that I have skirted around the actual extinction of the thylacine. While they are extinct, according to Muggle records and knowledge, the thylacine actually has a thriving community within secluded areas of Tasmania and the Australian mainland. You see, while the Muggles hunted the thylacine for a bounty or its pelt, the wizarding community acknowledged the importance of its magical properties. One such property is the regenerative abilities of the lining of the pouch; wands featuring a snippet of this lining are very valued and sought after possessions! Its claws are also used for their various magical properties, though not as highly prized. As such, while the Muggles believed that the last thylacine died in captivity in 1936, a breeding program had already been established in Launceston, Tasmania back at the end of World War One. 

Tasked with saving the thylacine community for future generations, the Outlying Offices of Magical Australia (OOMA) formed the VanDieman’s Association for the Rearing of Thylacines - VDART for short. Working on behalf of the OOMA, VDART began with a small pack of ten thylacines, and a breeding program was installed which saw the creatures steadily increase in number. Over time, the growing population allowed the VDART overseers to attempt different methods of gathering the pouch lining and claw clippings from the thylacines without causing harm to the creatures. This allowed for VDART President, Violet Rasmussens, to announce a new method by which the pouch lining could be removed from the creature without causing death. The new method permitted VDART to harvest and use the lining in potions and as a wand core, which in turn supplemented the costs of continuing the breeding program. To this day, the VDART breeding program is incredibly successful and a perfect example of magic aiding in animal conservation. 

But Sir, I Saw it!

This brings us to a slight problem. You see, the VDART breeding program has been so successful that the number of living thylacines, now believed to be well over 10,000, has reached numbers that would have not been believed. Despite taking all precautions possible, housing all of thylacines within the VDART conservatorium has caused many problems. One such problem is ensuring the supposedly extinct thylacine remains on the confined grounds of the VDART conservation area and thus out of the view of Muggles. Of course, this is quite difficult, and some thylacines have managed to breach the VDART protective barriers. Since the thylacine was officially declared extinct by Muggles in 1986, their newspapers and television stations have been searching for reputable evidence of living thylacine colonies within Tasmania and greater Australia. 

Almost as soon as the thylacine was declared extinct, stories and sightings were reported. Thylacine search parties soon ventured into the Tasmanian wilderness in search of evidence. Many times the parties were rewarded, but photographic evidence was lost, damaged, or simply lacked certain proof of their existence. 

A blurred image, captured by Muggle motion sensitive technology. 

Lately, Muggles have created online communities where collections of stories of thylacine observations are assembled.  While the magical community attempts to keep the thylacine hidden and safe, Muggles have managed to film the creature upon its escape from the VDART conservation, as shown in the following video.

https://youtu.be/9DLL0ELg-y8

Now while the video is rather clear, it seems to be filmed from quite a distance, and therefore, it is fortunately quite difficult to determine the actual size of the creature. When presented with the film, the government of Tasmania claimed it was a rather large domesticated cat and debunked the theory of living thylacines. Strangely, this seems to be a common occurrence in Australia, as other states have their own creatures of myth and legend that are fodder for conspiracy theories. One example is that big panthers supposedly inhabit the Blue Mountains, while another is that bunyips inhabit the swamp-like environments of Australia. Despite large amounts of video and photographic evidence, the Muggles still believe the creatures are figments of the imagination of silly, possibly inebriated Australians.   

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where I will leave the lesson. Australia is a wonderful place, with strange and unusual creatures, and I do hope you venture down under one day. After all, the thylacine is still calling Australia home!

Hoo-roo!  Which I have been told means “Good bye!”

O Proctor.

Disclaimer: Author of this lesson is from Australia and means no offense to the wonderful Aussies that reside there. All in good fun.

All pictures are found using the Google Images search engine, and belong to their owners.  

Welcome to Prehistoric Creature Feature! During the course, you will learn about seven different prehistoric, extinct (possibly?) creatures that roamed the Earth. The biggest question: are you ready to meet some of these creatures, or would you rather they stay extinct? Find out this week in Prehistoric Creature Feature! This is the third Creature Feature to be released.

Currently open from July 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019 as part of the activities during the break between years.
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