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In late 2008 I began discussions with the creators of the television program Monster Quest, about the possibility of documenting a search for the Tasmanian tiger. Talks progressed rapidly and I was faced with the question - if you could go anywhere in Australia to prove the thylacine exists, where would you go?
It was agreed that I would lead an expedition in search of the thylacine.
Earlier in 2008 a different production company began negotiations with me about the prospect of a documentary. During these discussions a number of colleagues were contacted and agreed in principle to support the project in some way. Ultimately this first documentary failed to attract financial backing and a key stakeholder in the expedition withdrew support. However, one colleague who had agreed to participate in the search was my good friend, Michael Nelson.
When this second opportunity to conduct a search presented itself, I knew there was a good chance Michael would come on board.
Michael and I have known each other since high school. We were both involved with the NSW State Emergency Service and trained in remote area search and rescue, and wilderness first aid. Together we have abseiled, caved, bushwalked and taken road trips on motorcycles and in cars. We've coached each other through life-threatening situations and know implicitly that we work well together.
Michael also brings to the table a wealth of technical and outdoor experience, while I bring knowledge about and passion for our quarry - the Tasmanian tiger.
There was never any question that the location of choice for this expedition would be Tasmania. Even though there have been hundreds of mainland sightings, it is undeniable that the thylacine lived in the island state of Tasmania less than 80 years ago.
Within Tasmania a number of regions present themselves as feasible options. Traditionally there have been many post-extinction sightings of thylacines from the state's forests in the north-west and north-east. Fewer sightings come from the west coast and south-west which is probably due to the lower (human) population density in these areas.
Ultimately I made the choice to base our search in the state's south-west on the grounds that the thylacine was known from this area pre-extinction. Even though some authors argue there is not enough suitable habitat or prey, the fact remains that the animal did exist there, presumably in sufficient numbers to breed.
Even with that decision made there still remains the decision of where exactly to target the camera drops. Tasmania's south-west is an enormous, isolated, rugged and remote place and you could never walk all of it in a lifetime.
Three camera drop zones were identified and we went through the painstaking task of weighing up factors such as pre and post extinction sightings, their reliability, accessibility, proximity to popular walking trails, etc.
Finally we settled on a location which will remain undisclosed in order to protect the thylacine from disturbance should we discover evidence of its presence.
Prior to the Monster Quest episode screening in May 2009 I can only reveal a few details about the technology we employed for this expedition.
It goes without saying that we have placed a number of camera traps in a variety of locations within the target zone. Some were in place for several weeks before being checked, while others are still in the field now and will remain there for a number of months before we recover them.
The expedition has been broken down into 3 separate trips to Tasmania.
On the first trip a number of trail cameras were deployed and we scouted out several locations for filming.
During the second trip some of the camera traps were checked, others were deployed and filming took place.
The third trip will be undertaken in May 2009. The remaining camera traps will be recovered.
The prime objective is to capture photographic or film evidence of the thylacine.
Secondly, we are also in search of other forms of evidence for the thylacine. These may include: sighting the species; footprints; scats; lairs; carcasses; prey kills; sub-fossil material.
Thirdly, the survey data we obtain for all species is being shared with Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and Water and Parks Tasmania.
Fourthly, any photographic evidence of Tasmanian devils will be shared with the appropriate organisations (in light of devil facial tumour disease).
Fifthly, any photographic evidence of foxes in Tasmania will also be shared with the appropriate departments.
Even though the final trek of the expedition has not yet been undertaken, a number of positive outcomes have been achieved already.
A previously unknown Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle nest was discovered. There are believed to be only about 200 nesting sites remaining in Tasmania.
The elusive ground parrot was identified by its call. Co-incidentally, I only recognised the call because of last year having examined evidence for its survival in Sydney where it has not been sighted in over 100 years.
The Monster Quest episode is titled "Isle of the Lost Tiger". It will screen in the US as follows.
- 9pm Wednesday 13th May 2009
- 1am Thursday 14th May 2009
- 9am Sunday 24th May 2009
Check your local guides for local times.
From History channel's description of the episode:
"A remote island off the coast of Australia was once home to a real monster with vampire-like tendencies. The Tasmanian Tiger, which was known for its massive jaws and sharp incisors, stalked livestock and terrified the human inhabitants of the island before a bounty brought about the Tiger's extinction almost eighty years ago. But if the eyewitness stories and scientific breakthroughs are correct, this creature may be on the verge of making a comeback. Across Tasmania there have been over 350 sightings of this monster, including reports from experienced biologists and outdoorsmen. Meanwhile, in an Australian laboratory, one scientist is using a preserved strand of DNA in an attempt to resurrect the tiger. Now, the MonsterQuest science and expedition teams will seek to find the ultimate proof that the Tasmanian Tiger could be alive and stalking the subtropical forests of this distant island."