The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger

Andrew Orchard lives near the northeastern coast of Tasmania, in the same ramshackle farmhouse that his great-grandparents, the first generation of his English family to be born on the Australian island, built in 1906. When I visited Orchard there, in March, he led me past stacks of cardboard boxes filled with bones, skulls, and scat, and then rooted around for a photo album, the kind you’d expect to hold family snapshots. Instead, it contained pictures of the bloody carcasses of Tasmania’s native animals: a wombat with its intestines pulled out, a kangaroo missing its face. “A tiger will always eat the jowls and eyes,” Orchard explained. “All the good organs.” The photos were part of Orchard’s arsenal of evidence against a skeptical world—proof of his fervent belief, shared with many in Tasmania, that the island’s apex predator, an animal most famous for being extinct, is still alive.

The Tasmanian tiger, known to science as the thylacine, was the only member of its genus of marsupial carnivores to live to modern times. It could grow to six feet long, if you counted its tail, which was stiff and thick at the base, a bit like a kangaroo’s, and it raised its young in a pouch. When Orchard was growing up, his father would tell him stories of having snared one, on his property, many years after the last confirmed animal died, in the nineteen-thirties. Orchard says that he saw his first tiger when he was eighteen, while duck hunting, and since then so many that he’s lost count. Long before the invention of digital trail cameras, Orchard was out in the bush rigging film cameras to motion sensors, hoping to get a picture of a tiger. He showed me some of the most striking images he’d collected over the decades, sometimes describing teeth and tails and stripes while pointing at what, to my eye, could very well have been shadows or stems. (Another thylacine searcher told me that finding tigers hidden in the grass in camera-trap photos is “a bit like seeing the Virgin Mary in burnt toast.”) Orchard estimates that he spends five thousand dollars a year just on batteries for his trail cams. The larger costs of his fascination are harder to calculate. “That’s why my wife left me,” he offered at one point, while discussing the habitats tigers like best.


To read more on this story, click here: The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger 


/