Nick Mooney, one of the worlds leading thylacine experts was kind enough to answer questions from the members of The Thylacine Open Debate and Discussion Page
How many documentaries on the thylacine is he aware of?
By documentaries I understand movie or video recordings. There have
been at least 40 documentaries from the early days of film and TV that
I know of. There would be others both local and done overseas that I
do not know of. I have been involved with at least 15
Has anyone played a sound for you that you thought was possibly thylacine?
No I have had sounds played to me that I have not heard before but
none match what was reported for Thylacine.
Thylacine have distinctive feet - in your view do the planter pad to
toe pad ratios of 1:6 to 1:7 for thylacine feet make sense in
comparison to canine of 1:2 to 1:3?
Yes and they apply for all quadruped marsupials I have examine. I have
found no overlap between equivalent prints for dog and those
With the Thylacine jaw structure not being as powerful as wolves or
dogs do you believe they preyed more on small mammals, and fowl
instead of Kangaroos or Wallabies.
It was only ever modelled or projected as not being as powerful –
never directly measured. Thylacines were large animals – up to 35kg.
Even if not as bite-strong as the same sized canid they still have an
impressive jaw and large teeth so I expect they could kill prey as
large as themselves. They of course can also kill much smaller things.
I also expect they took what was most available so would concentrate
on different prey in different places, just like most predators do.
Remember canids kill very large prey by ripping but thylacines would
have been restricted to a heavy bite and maybe shake. The narrow
muzzle suggests precision to me so I suggest they focused on animals
about half their own weight killing with a big, precise bite.
Wallabies fit that prey description. There are direct observations of
them killing large animals including hunting dogs so I am not
enthusiastic in using modelling instead of direct observation. If the
modelling conflicts with direct observation maybe the modelling has to
be revisited and the direct observation too.
Differences can be resolved by applying about the normal curve - most
Thylacine prey would be smaller than the thylacine but some would be
larger and some much smaller. Devils kill much larger animals if they
are partially incapacitated but also kill tadpoles. Animals motives
(hunger) also effects what they may do. Young raptors often kill
larger things than do older, more experienced individuals but if they
survive, eventually learn what is safe to kill. Prey populations and
therefore availability also change seasonally and year to year and
predators have to be flexible enough to encompass this.
With the extinction of the Tasmanian Emu do you believe this had a
detrimental affect on the Thylacines food source
I doubt they killed adult emus very often. They are dangerous prey.
Any thoughts on the Attard study which showed that the structure of
the skull and jaws are relatively weaker than those of a similarly
Comments as above.
Regarding the supposed shooting/discovery of a Thylacine's body (or
possibly more than one even) at Adamsfield in 1990, did you ever have
sight of the series of photos that were supposedly taken of it at the
time and/or did you/the department officially investigate that
situation at all? Any thoughts or conclusions would be appreciated.
We were not told about it. The first supposed photos I saw were
associated with comments from Col bailey only a few years ago. I still
do not know who supposedly did the shooting /made the discovery and
have not seen the original photos.
Can he give the approx dates of the large private expeditions that
seem to remain somewhat classified.
Most expeditions were private and its up to those ‘owning’ them to
talk about or not. They sometimes contacted the department or even me
privately and request confidentiality. By large I understand not $
spent but area covered with reasonable effort. One might also say
10000 camera nights (eg 10 cameras for 1000 nights) is large. Peter
Wright did a large one in the mid 1980s, Dave Watts and Stew Blackhall
did several through the early 1990s, there was a French one in the mid
1990s using a pet sheep as a lure. Ned terry did several large
expeditions through the 1990s and early 2000s. So called ‘Tigerman’
reportedly did his own through the early/mid 2000s although being
anonymous its impossible to know if they were real expeditions. There
are scores if not hundreds of cameras out there these days, most
private. I am in contact with 3 ongoing searches by enthusiasts. I’d
call them large searches because they go on for a long time, as above.
No doubt I simply don’t know of others. Some of what of seem large
searches because of the publicity prove to be very small if done at
If he had to look for a thylacine today where would he look?
One might consider a place with lots of wallabies and possums and
refuges that is large enough to contain at least say 10 Thylacines in
contact but small or remote enough to have those thylacines
overlooked. Much of coastal western Tasmania suits that as does some
patches of decent soils (which concentrate values) in the highlands
and mid south. The good soils of Granville Hbr are an example but they
are farmed with people living there so I doubt thylacines are
overlooked there. However, and it’s a big HOWEVER, we are simply not
as good as we think we are at finding very rare things.
Is there any reason to suspect the disease which affected the
thylacine in the early part of the century had any connection with the
decline in devil numbers in 1950? In either case, if the 1950 decline
is attributable to disease do we have any what it was?
The supposed disease(s) were not properly recorded and it can only be
speculated what impact they had. Mostly we just have some anecdotes –
there were no even vaguely consistent measures of abundance. The
current devil disease DFTD is obvious but such a disease doesn’t have
to be obvious (eg a more visibly subtle or internal caner). Maybe it
was something like that. Some marsupials are inclined to pneumonia
even in apparent epidemics. Perhaps toxoplasmosis had a very high
impact early in its career here. Distemper seems very unlikely to jump
from eutherian to marsupial.
Do you still search for thylacines in your private time ?
Occasionally but more in the course of doing other surveys or having
fun in the bush. I help monitor devils and other wildlife and do some
mine assessments in remote areas so always keep an eye out. Footprints
are my key expertise.
What is your best thylacine report after Hans Naarding..?
There are many arguably better because they simply had multiple
observers none of whom knew anything about thylacines but just
reported what they saw. Hans would likely agree with that. I have one
daytime report from near Zeehan of 2 cars with 7 people (who didn’t
know each other car to car) the first car passing the animal standing
on the roadside and stopping and the second parking before it.
Daytime. Each car was 20 m from the animal by my reconstruction and
they had 7 seconds view. So they were either right or lying.
If you had to put a %, how certain are you that 1080 isn't going to
affect the native wildlife? Any idea what caused the drop off in
sighting reports from the 80's to the 90's?
1080 is much misunderstood. It is found in some Australian plants as
a plant defence against browsers. So most Australian animals have
evolutionary exposure and some resistance. Devils for instance are, kg
for kg about 34 times as resistant as a dog (with no evolutionary
exposure). Wedge-tailed eagles have one of the highest resistances of
any bird or mammal, much higher than say Golden eagles which not being
in Australia have very little resistance. Herbivores are less
resistant than most carnivores. This means amounts that might harm
wallabies probably won’t harm devils or our eagles but might kill
The amount ingested per size of the individual animal and that
individuals health and fitness and that species’ physiological
resistance governs what happens.High doses of 1080 were (and still are sometimes I think) used to
systematically kill wallabies but there has NEVER been a native
carnivore proven to be killed by one of these operational culls.
Devils are very resistant spotted tailed quolls and eastern quolls
somewat less resistant. We can speculate where Thylacines sat but its
likely they too had considerable resistance. None has resistance to
say Strychnine. The widespread rabbit strychnine poisonings of the
50s, 60s and later other synthetic poisons could have been very
damaging to remaining Thylacines.The 80s and 90s saw much (illegal) poisoning of devils eagles and ravens using organophosphates, deadly to everything. But it was still
mostly in rural areas. I’m not sure sighting did drop off in that
period although reports did.
That period also saw a cynicism and scepticism enter Tasmania,
something for which we are now (in)famous, and with it maybe came
enhanced reluctance to expose oneself to ridicule. Hence less reports.
Once the department paid the issue less attention (by the mid1990s)
then reports drifted towards private enthusiasts. I suspect there are
just as many ‘events’ now and they are reported as often but those
reports are dispersed and kept private.