Rare photograph of Tasmanian tiger triggers warning from families connected to its extinction

The loss of the Tasmanian tiger is a sad moment in Australia's history, but there are concerns historical mistakes are being repeated.

Tania Turner (right) holding her 1930 Tasmanian tiger photo. Another photo (left) shows the Tasmanian tiger photo on top of a picture of Montague Turner holding a wedge tailed eagle.
Tania Turner (right) was given the Tasmanian Tiger photo by her grandfather Montague Turner (pictured left) who ran the Punchbowl Zoo in Launceston. Source: Tania Turner

A woman’s rediscovery of a rare photograph showing a wild Tasmanian tiger has unearthed old emotions from those connected to its extinction. The image had been stashed away for decades after it was collected by a man who had seen real tigers in the wild.

Tania Turner, 59, spoke to Yahoo News on Friday, recalling the moment her grandfather, a former zoo owner, passed the photo down to her. He died in 1994, and she estimates she was given it 10 years earlier.

“He gave it to me in a big envelope with some other photos. I believe it came from his father, Montague Senior, who used to go out trapping them and taking my grandfather with him.” she said.

“He never really talked about it much. He thought they were most probably gone by then, but he really hoped they weren’t.”

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Tasmania’s elusive tiger population is believed to have numbered no more than 4,500 when white settlers arrived. While some were killed after the state put a bounty on them, the biggest killer was likely the fur trade, as it frequently became the accidental victim of hunters targeting possums.

The last known tiger died in captivity in Hobart on the night of September 7, 1936, and several high-quality images of that individual exist.

But the image Turner found was taken in 1930, and shows the last known wild tiger to be hunted and killed. What’s remarkable about the image is it shows the animal after it was wounded but still standing — It was possibly still alive.

The last Tasmanian tiger to be hunted is standing up. There is rubbish behind it. It is unclear whether the animal is alive or not.
The photograph shows the last wild Tasmanian tiger to be hunted. Source: Tania Turner Image: Mr Sundquist

Between five and six other images of this individual are known to exist. One shows farmer Wilfred Batty posing with his dog and the dead tiger, which is leaning against a fence. Two other grainy pictures show the animal lying on the ground.

Experts from the Tasmanian Tiger Archives, a group which has helped add to the collection of 119 known images and 13 videos, can confirm it’s the same animal in all the Batty photos. That’s because each tiger has a distinct stripe pattern that’s as unique as a human fingerprint.

There are no pictures of Tasmanian tigers in the wild, and this sad image is likely the closest that will ever be discovered.

Whether it was alive and dying in the image will likely remain a mystery. A forensic veterinary surgeon engaged by the Archive, who has expertise in rigor mortis examined the image but was unable to confirm either way.

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Bevan Anderson, the grandson of Batty, admits he’s always carried a heavy responsibility because of his family connection to the tiger’s demise.

“It is sad for me. Because when I look at it, and I think to myself that's possibly one of the last ones,” he said. “It really hits a nerve, and I’ve never spoken about it too much to people.”

Anderson had been unaware of Turner’s photo before he was contacted by Yahoo. Although the demise of the tiger saddens him, he doesn’t judge his grandfather too harshly because it was “another time”.

“They had it hard. It was a soldier settlement and they had to work bloody hard. He had to work on the road,” Anderson said.

But what frustrates him is that the lessons of the past have not been learned, and humans are continuing to drive other species towards extinction. And what annoys him most is the destruction of wildlife habitat.

“I don’t think we learn our lessons too well and history seems to repeat itself,” he said.

Related: Silent extinctions occurring unreported across Australia – from spiders to frogs

Wilfred Batty kneeling between his dog and the dead Tasmanian tiger at his farm. He's holding a large rifle.
Wilfred Batty shot the last-known wild Tasmanian tiger in 1930. Source: Supplied

Batty shot the tiger because it had been stealing his chooks, a prized possession back in 1930 when times were tougher. Sadly, reports suggest that tigers were starving and the species in general was on the way out.

Mike Williams, who founded the Tasmanian Tiger Archives, said it should have been caught and protected by authorities.

“There were roadworks down from Batty’s farm, and it was trying to scavenge food — that’s how hungry it was. And the road workers threw a boot at it,” he told Yahoo.

"I've seen another instance from the northwest where they clubbed an animal to death. It was an old, sad looking, decrepit animal. And killing is what they did when they ran into an animal they weren’t quite sure about.”

Williams believes myths about the tiger are a contributing factor that led to its demise at the hands of white settlers.

“They thought it was a ferocious, sheep killing animal,” he said. “If it hadn’t been called a tiger, and instead something else, there wouldn’t have been the same connotations with danger.”

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