In Tasmania, a marsupial mystery has finally been solved. People have long puzzled over the whereabouts of the last known specimen of a thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. Turns out they’ve been safely tucked away at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery all along. But due to a data error, nobody knew.

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A trapper caught an old female Tasmanian tiger and sold it to a zoo in May 1936. The poor creature died a few months later. The zoo gave the body to the museum. And then…nothing. That’s because the trapper had caught the thylacine illegally. The zoo staff didn’t keep records to spare the trapper a fine. They must have really wanted that old Tasmanian tiger.

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“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success, as no thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and so it was assumed its body had been discarded,” said Robert Paddle, author of the book “The Last Tasmanian Tiger,” in a news release. At the museum, the creature was skinned and its bones were used in an education collection. At that point, it was hard to tell the last thylacine apart from any other.

The thylacine is a funny-looking tiger, with its doglike face, ratlike tail, striped hindquarters and marsupial pouch. If you’re wondering why the Tasmanian tiger has a convenient pouch to carry its kittens around and your cat doesn’t, it’s because the thylacine isn’t really a cat at all. Instead, its closest relatives are Tasmanian devils and something called the quoll — a carnivorous marsupial that looks pretty cute until opening its mouth to reveal terrifyingly sharp teeth.

Thylacines have been in the news in the last few years for another reason: some scientists want to bring them back through the wonders of genome sequencing. Then the critters could eat Tasmania’s surplus ferrets and rabbits.

The tigers went extinct in the first place because European settlers killed them for hunting their sheep. Some modern people put the blame on feral dogs, or say it was the farmers’ own fault for not managing their livestock better. Either way, the thylacine population was about 5,000 when European settlers first came to Tasmania in 1803. Colonizers hated the creatures and decimated the population by the 1920s.

Via CNN, Science Focus

Lead image via Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

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