Tetrapod Zoology

Photos purported to show ‘mystery animals’ are always great fun. One of the most perplexing and curious of the lot was taken on a box Brownie camera near Goroke, western Victoria, Australia, in 1964. I’m referring, of course, to Rilla Martin’s photo of a strange, striped, running mammal.

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This photo has generally become known as ‘the Ozenkadnook tiger photo’; in fact, the term ‘Ozenkadnook tiger’ was and is used for a supposed mystery beast (suspected by witnesses and locals to be a mainland Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus) seen since the 1880s across southwestern Victoria and southeastern South Australia (Healy & Cropper 1994). The specific photo is, therefore, better known as ‘the Rilla Martin photo’.

Martin reported that, while on holiday one day in 1964, she was driving along between Goroke and Apsley. With time to spare, she chose to drive along the dirt track near Ozenkadnook. She’d been photographing relatives while at Goroke (where her cousin lived) and had the camera next to her, on the front seat. In the woods close to the road, she caught sight of an unusual animal, standing at the edge of the scrub. She stopped the car and snapped one photo, just as the animal began to run away [a close-up of its head is shown below].

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Martin later returned home to Melbourne, and there then seem to be two versions of what happened next. Some sources state that she mailed the photo to her relatives (saying in a letter “Here is the photograph of the animal that I told you about”), who then took it to the local newspaper office (Chapple 2000). Others imply that she handed the photo herself to The Wimmera Mail-Times (Williams & Lang 2010). It then appeared in the Syndney Morning Herald and became a national sensation. Unable to identify the animal, “wildlife experts were quick to denounce it as a fraud” (Williams & Lang 2010, p. 202). A claim from 1969 that her cousin developed the film for her, and inserted a photo he had taken of a “dummy tiger”, is inconsistent with both stories and seems to be an invention.

Martin’s photo has been much reproduced and is highly familiar to people who know the cryptozoological literature: it shows what looks like a large, quadrupedal predator with a long tail, deep chest, tall shoulders, and a rather deep head. The photo really isn’t that bad, but foliage that overlaps the head makes it difficult to work out what the head’s shape really was. Incidentally, the original photograph has been lost by the offices of The Wimmera Mail-Times, so all the versions you see here and elsewhere are scans of copies published by newspapers (and I’ve no idea where the negatives are).

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What looks like an upper outline to the snout and forehead is, I currently think, actually an illusion resulting from fortuitously arranged twigs and leaves. There might be an ear visible at top right, but again I think this might be an illusion. An imaginative reconstruction of the animal is shown above in a cartoon I produced many years ago (Martin’s beast is shown alongside a few other Australian creatures of cryptozoological interest).

Martin reported that the animal had a pig-like snout and she compared the creature with a labrador in size. Its ‘striping’ is perhaps its most vexing feature: it really looks like the animal has pale striping across its shoulders and the back of its neck, with a darker ground colour surrounding these stripes and much of the rest of the forequarters. The hindquarters appear slender compared to the deep chest and the tail looks long and slim. The hindquarters are also very light in tone, almost certainly as a result of bright sunlight falling on this part of the animal. Indeed, it’s very hard to know where light and shadow end and where pigmentation begin on the animal, and Martin herself said that she didn’t much notice the stripes when taking the photograph. This might mean that the ‘stripes’ are dappling formed by sunlight. It’s not really possible to know.

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One minor point worth noting is that, like so many ‘famous’, oft-reproduced photos, the version you see in many books is cropped and the original was somewhat larger [as an example, the adjacent cropped version is from Michell & Rickard (1982). Compare it with the uncropped version used above]. Uncropped versions show more forest litter in the foreground, and more trees in the background.

So… what is it? I don’t know, and I’d welcome your thoughts. It doesn’t look to me like a big cat or a domestic or feral dog: the shape is just wrong. And nothing else matches either: it’s clearly not a kangaroo, horse, or anything else that might be expected to be wandering around the scrub in Victoria. A popular suggestion in the cryptozoological literature has been that the creature was perhaps either a Thylacine or a thylacoleonid (= marsupial lion). Thylacines officially became extinct on the Australian mainland about 3000 years ago (and the last verified individual – Benjamin, of Hobart Zoo – died of neglect in 1936), but it’s well known that many people claim to have seen them on the mainland in recent years. Of course, one could embark at this point on a lengthy discussion of Thylacine survival… I’ll leave that for another time.

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Does the animal in Martin’s photo look like a Thylacine anyway? Actually, its shape and the positions of its legs are vaguely Thylacine-like: the high shoulders, the apparently long, slim tail, and the stiff look to the forelimbs all remind me (and others: Healy & Cropper 1994) of a running Thylacine. But things aren’t quite right: the shoulders look too high for a Thylacine and the proportions are off. And what the hell is going on with the striping? If the head really is deep and blunt-snouted, this also counts against a Thylacine identity [the adjacent staged Thylacine photo - by H. Burrell, taken in 1921 - is one of several argued by Freeman (2005) to be of a posed taxiderm specimen. I'm not sure I agree that the specimen was a stuffed one, but there's no doubt that the photos were staged].

The thylacoleonid idea (mooted by those who have proposed that the big, striped predators seen in the Australian bush might, just might, be living marsupial lions) is even more fanciful than the Thylacine one.

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Could it have been a hoax? The object in the photo looks like a real, three-dimensional animal with muscles. An attempt by the ABC TV company to put a hand-painted wooden cut-out near the location of the sighting and photograph it reportedly resulted in photos that look like those of a cut-out (Healy & Cropper 1994). John Martin, Rilla’s brother, stated as recently as 1999 that the photo was no hoax and, responding to suggestions that photo manipulation of some sort might have been involved, stated that “we country kids hardly knew how to take a photo, let alon[e] fiddle with it” (Williams & Lang 2010, p. 202). I don’t think it’s a hoax: I think it’s a photo of a real animal. And that’s basically all I have to say. I long to know what the creature is, but I can’t work it out. Let me know what you think.

The story of Rilla Martin’s 1964 photo has been told many times in the mystery animal literature. This article was mostly inspired by its discussion in Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang’s new book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers [shown in adjacent image], which I’m currently reading and will be reviewing here at some stage.

UPDATE (added 20th August 2010): while looking at the photo again today, I noticed something I haven’t seen before (but possibly alluded to in comment # 6 below): beneath the left hindlimb is what looks like a curved supporting structure, clearly demarcated from the surroundings and with alternating dark and light bands. A close-up of the relevant part of the photo, and a very schematic attempt to depict it, is shown here. Now that I’ve noticed this, it’s difficult not to interpret it as an artificial supporting structure.

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For previous Tet Zoo articles on photos or films of mystery animals, see…

And for more on Australian mystery animals see…

Refs – -

Chapple, P. 2000. Mystery animals of Australia: a brief overview. Unpublished report of Rare Fauna Research Association (Monbulk, Victoria).

Freeman, C. 2005. Is this picture worth a thousand words? An analysis of Henry Burrell’s photograph of a thylacine with a chicken. Australian Zoologist 33, 1-16.

Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia. Ironbark (Chippendale, Australia).

Michell, J. & Rickard, R. J. M. 1982. Living Wonders: Mysteries and Curiosities of the Animal World. Thames & Hudson (London).

Williams, M. & Lang, R. 2010. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation (Hazelbrook, Australia).

Comments

  1. #1 Practically Uninformed
    August 18, 2010

    …you know what’s weird? I’m actually starting to see hints of a dikdik-like creature in that photo, mainly in the head. It’s probably an illusion, but there seem to be 2 horn-like projections just over the eye.
    In fact, couple that with the stripes, and it looks vaguely like a squat okapi.

  2. #2 Riggy
    August 18, 2010

    To me it looks like it’s been painted on a photograph (or a horrible stuffed animal); if you look at the close up of the eye, I don’t know about you, but it looks like an anime eye (or rather painted and too fake) and the legs are disportional or rather the legs are awkward (the chest looks rather “out of place” with the front legs). So to me it’s a fake.

    On the sidenote can you or someone here help me out. I remember seeing a photograph somewhere on the net, and it’s pretty interesting. It’s an black and white photo taken in a South African bush and the animal in the photo was black, with the body of a antelope with the head of a hoopoe. Can someone find the site please, it’s driving me mad.

  3. #3 Veltyen
    August 18, 2010

    It is interesting certainly. I grew up in that area, and certainly it would be plausible for a large predator to exist in 1964. At the time there were significant undeveloped stretches of bush allowing corridors from the Grampians (a large national park just to he south of Goroke) extending in most directions for hundreds of kilometres.

    All that has now been cleared. :(

    Pity that the mainland thylacine found so far all look pretty much identical to the Tasmanian population. This beastie certainly looks and is described quite different.

  4. #4 neil
    August 18, 2010

    I wonder if a low-angle on the shot, coupled with foreshortening (say the animal is oriented sub-parallel to the frame) and perhaps a partly turned head might reconcile the overall body shape with that of a thylacine? I realize that’s grasping at straws a bit, but it looks awfully thylacine-like to me, for the same reasons that Darren articulates.

    Obviously that still leaves the coat discrepancy, but do we actually know anything about the coat pattern of mainland thylacines?

  5. #5 HP
    August 18, 2010

    Further to Riggy’s observation, it looks to me like there was some contrast work and retouching of the photograph to prepare it for halftone printing. That would have been par for the course for printing snapshots in a newspaper. The “stripes” may be an artifact of that.

    Here’s my guess: Tiger Quoll with forced perspective, sun dapples, and halftone artifacts.

  6. #6 Passerby
    August 18, 2010

    It’s a scam photo and a piss-poor amateur job at that. By deliberately under-lighting and shifting focus, the object – a partially decomposed carcass with broad stripes painted at the wrong end – the photographer produced a vague image that can’t be readily scrutinized. She trotted it into the local news rag, who paid her for the photo and then it was shopped around as ‘evidence’ of the famed Tasmanian tiger.

    You mention a ‘long slim tail’. Where would that be??

    It’s one of hundreds of attempts to produce ‘photographic evidence’ of a large cat in Australia. Many photos taken since show large feral cats roaming in the bush, mistaken as ‘long lost Pleistocene big cats’. At least the objects in question looked alive and cat-like, and had intact limbs and heads.

    This one looks like a poorly made replica. A brownie hawkeye box camera (which I happened to own as a kid) would give you a blurred image of a running animal. The brush in the midsection covers the support used to prop it up, which isn’t quite covered. Ooops.

  7. #7 Judith
    August 19, 2010

    I think it’s just some sticks and some pareidolia. Especially since the supposed creature clearly has no head.

  8. #8 Veltyen
    August 19, 2010

    @neil(#4) Obviously that still leaves the coat discrepancy, but do we actually know anything about the coat pattern of mainland thylacines?

    Yes. Some fully mummified specimens have been recovered. With partial coat and details intact. Cave paintings (mainland thylacine co-existed with the local populace for 30,000+ years) also indicate similar patterning.

  9. #9 jwbjerk
    August 19, 2010

    “….This might mean that the ‘stripes’ are dappling formed by sunlight. It’s not really possible to know.”

    I think not. If the sunlight/shadow contrast was that strong, you would expect to see some similar striped shadows on the ground. Nothing about the lighting of the scene is right for those to be dappling.

    IMHO a striped animal is there. I don’t know if it is painted, live or stuffed.

  10. #10 farandfew
    August 19, 2010

    I’m surprised by the criticism of this one. I’m no artist of photo trickery but I’m not getting ‘partially decomposed carcass’. Don’t really see that this looks like an animal running particularly fast either. But I do wonder what’s going on with the hind leg.
    Still, if this is a piss-poor amateur scam photo, then I think your standards are higher than is normal in this field; look at some of the lake monster ones on this site!

  11. #11 Anonymous
    August 19, 2010

    It looks like a late-surviving Thylacinus potens, the Powerful thylacine, or it may just be an hoax as well.

  12. #12 Dartian
    August 19, 2010

    Darren:

    the last verified individual – Benjamin, of Hobart Zoo

    There is no evidence that the last captive thylacine’s name was Benjamin; that oft-repeated piece of information is just a popular misconception. (Also, that last captive thylacine was probably a female rather than a male.) See Robert Paddle’s book The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine (2000) for further details about the story of ‘Benjamin’.

    As for the mystery animal – if indeed it’s an animal at all – in that photograph; it certainly doesn’t seem to be ‘running’. It looks like it’s either standing or walking, and its stance looks awkward and unnatural to me.

    The animal’s reported behaviour also raises red flags. Why isn’t it actually moving away from the human observer, rather than standing/walking parallel to her? Why isn’t it looking in the direction of a potential threat/strange object (i.e., the human being and her car)? That’s what a real animal would most likely be doing the moment before it bolts away.

    An attempt by the ABC TV company to put a hand-painted wooden cut-out near the location of the sighting and photograph it reportedly resulted in photos that look like those of a cut-out

    Why did they only try to replicate the photo by using a two-dimensional model? What if the original object was a three-dimensional dummy (made of wood or plastic or whatever was available to a prankster)? Sounds like a rather lackluster debunking attempt to me. Where are MythBusters when you need them?

    Let me know what you think.

    Sorry, but I vote for ‘It’s probably not real’.

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    August 19, 2010

    I do love the way that ‘mystery animal’ photos enable some people to develop super powers and see beyond the limits of normal human perspective. The idea that the object is a carcass, painted with stripes, and propped up in the bush by a support [comment 6], is an interesting one – but how would you demonstrate this to someone who is sceptical of your bold (and unique) interpretation? Granted, I can see a dark smudge under the ‘belly’ that could be interpreted as a support, but equally it could just as likely be interpreted as a bit of crap on the ground, behind the animal. What I interpret as a long, slim tail is obvious at the far right of the animal. As for the assertion that Martin was paid for the production of this photo, you should make clear whether there is any evidence for this assertion, or whether it’s just an opinion or speculation.

    Moving on, any suggestion that the animal ‘is not doing what an animal would’ (viz, it seems to be moving parallel to the viewer, rather than away from them) [comment 12] doesn’t count for much, in my opinion. Animals frequently do illogical, stupid or unpredictable things, and are sometimes unable to charge through/leap over adjacent obstacles. One random example: the Fennec fox I saw in Morocco. At one point it ran parallel to our vehicle while fleeing, so our photos show the animal in profile.

    The idea that the photo was retouched or modified by the newspaper is a good one – note that Martin said that she didn’t much notice the stripes at the time (this might explain why they look so weird). It might also explain why the newspaper ‘lost’ the photo. But, whatever the object is, I hope you agree that it’s right to be sceptical of bold claims that a hoax is immediately apparent. It isn’t to me.

    Oh, and I didn’t know that Benjamin wasn’t called Benjamin :)

  14. #14 David Marjanović
    August 19, 2010

    The biggest problem is that the print you scanned has such low resolution that I can’t even tell if it’s a photo or a painting. The white stripes, especially, look like they were painted on the photo during retouching.

  15. #15 Darren Naish
    August 19, 2010

    Sorry, I don’t have a hi-res version. And see comment 13 regarding retouching.

  16. #16 Dartian
    August 19, 2010

    Darren:

    Animals frequently do illogical, stupid or unpredictable things, and are sometimes unable to charge through/leap over adjacent obstacles

    That’s certainly true. But my point was that it doesn’t exactly boost the credibility of this particular report if the animal allegedly displayed such unexpected behaviour.

    I didn’t know that Benjamin wasn’t called Benjamin

    It’s not known with certainty if the poor beast had any name at all. The story of the last captive thylacines’ final years is a sad and infuriating tale of neglect and mismanagement. (The Hobart Zoo lost many other animals due to poor husbandry in the nineteen thirties; the thylacines weren’t the only ones that suffered.)

  17. #17 David Craven
    August 19, 2010

    This may seem extraordinarily stupid, but the first thing I saw in looking at the image, before I read a word, was an Okapi…

    Anyway, hopefully Darren has seen the “Ratzilla” reports and is on his way to Bradford to investigate! The Sun has a photo, but there’s a lot there to cast doubt on almost every aspect of the reported story.

  18. #18 Jerzy
    August 19, 2010

    Thats might be Quinkana. Or a dog. Or a dog carcass propped up. But it also looks a bit okapi-sh. Sivatherium?

    I would be more interested in what came out supposed thylacine search in Irian Jaya?

  19. #19 Shawn
    August 19, 2010

    The Thylacine book (by Paddle) is REALLY good, and very informative, just finished reading it last week.

    The photo does look odd, but then again so do a lot of photos of very commonplace things that are taken in a hurry, with poor lighting, without time to focus. My own albums are full of headless relatives, blurry dogs and the usual “What the hell is that?” photos when they come back from being developed. That being said, the thing that always bothered me about the picture is the fact that it looks like the front half of the animal is dark with light stripes and (depending on the resolution) the back half looks light with dark stripes, especially on the tail and the back of the thigh. Like two animals pieced together. Although given the fact that all known copies of the photo are scans of ones that had been printed in the news (and possibly retouched) I guess we’ll never know.

  20. #20 Jeff Johnson
    August 19, 2010

    Well, you know what I think….

  21. #21 Greg Morrow
    August 19, 2010

    That outline is awfully sharp for an animal with any sort of cryptic coloring, as the stripes would seem to indicate. Breaking up the outline is the first purpose of cryptic coloring.

    It looks like a Cottingley Fairies picture to me.

  22. #22 Dartian
    August 19, 2010

    Farandfew:

    if this is a piss-poor amateur scam photo, then I think your standards are higher than is normal in this field

    It’s only tangentially related to photographing cryptids, but try to find that paper by Carol Freeman (2005) that Darren refers to in the main post. Read it, and you’ll be surprised by the lengths people will go to in order to get the kinds of pictures they wish, as well as by the technical skill that such photographers may possess.

  23. #23 Onychomys
    August 19, 2010

    If it is a thylacine where the hindquarters stripes are not visible because of sunlight, what are we to make of the stripes that are apparently visible on the tail? Thyacines had non-striped tails. Or if the back half of the animal is overexposed by the sun, does that mean that the tail stripes are shadows? Even if we explain the strange front-half stripes as a problem with the developing-and-printing processes, it seems unlikely that that’d put stripes on the front and tail but not the rear. I don’t know what animal that is, but I just don’t buy the thylacine explanation.

  24. #24 Don Cox
    August 19, 2010

    A badly stuffed Red Fox with stripes painted on it?

    I can’t see any shadows on the surrounding which could make those shapes be shadows of leaves – whether of bamboo, palm or whatever. Notice the thickish white branch at upper left which has no shadows cast on it.

  25. #25 Canadian Curmudgeon
    August 19, 2010

    I recently read an article on the large cats in Great Briton. These seem to be cats that have escaped or been released from private owners. Would it be possible that this a crossbred large cat, such as a liger or tigon, from a private collection?

    Or perhaps an escapee from the Island of Dr. Moreau?

  26. #26 Canadian Curmudgeon
    August 19, 2010

    I just realized that my last comment just solved the entirety of cryptozoology.

  27. #27 Zach Miller
    August 19, 2010

    Why the hell can’t anyone take a GOOD picture of a cryptid?

  28. #28 Darren Naish
    August 19, 2010

    Re: comment 22 (Dartian’s reference to Carol Freeman’s paper)… I’ll have to read it again, but my recollection is that Freeman’s argument was quite unconvincing. The photos in question (I know some of them well, having spent ages staring at them in old books: e.g., McMichael’s 1968 A Treasury of Australian Wildlife) clearly show the thylacine in numerous different postures: bending its body to the left of the photo, looking upward, etc., and I just don’t see the evidence for photo trickery that she does. In some photos, the legs are in different positions (difficult to get this to happen with a taxiderm mount), the mouth is open, feathers and chicken bones are visible in the mouth, the eye is closed etc. She argues that various kinds of trickery (superimposing etc.) explain how these differences exist. I don’t see the need for any of this: it looks like a live thylacine, and the evidence she puts forward for it being a stuffed specimen doesn’t stand up: ‘wasted’ limb muscles and stiff legs, for example, are readily seen in other photographed thylacines. In fact, I often think that live thylacines looked a bit ‘wooden’ in some poses… they look ‘stiffer’, and with straighter lines and less flexible limbs and bodies, than more familiar mammalian carnivores.

    Having said all that, there’s no doubt that the chicken-killing scene was staged.

  29. #29 darwinsdog
    August 19, 2010

    I’m with Anonymous in post #11. A Thylacinus potens or some other robust thylacinid unknown from the fossil record. Probably completely extinct by now.

  30. #30 Douglas Greene
    August 19, 2010

    I have examined this photo for years, and have decided that the pixilation and the sharpening (?) done for newspaper reproduction make it difficult to come to firm conclusions. It looks to me (a) real — not a faked model or a pre-PhotoShop creation; (b) the head, especially the snout, does not look like a Thylacine (though its odd look may be cause by the way it is turned or by bits added by the newspaper for “clarity”); (c) the general appearance is that of a deep-chested dog; (d) and if “c” is true, the stripes are shadows.

    There were some interesting photos taken a few years ago in Tasmania by German tourists; they do show a Thylacine — or a fake that looks like said Thylacine. They were briefly on the web but then removed. The website Whenlightmeetsdark discusses these pictures and seems to think them genuine evidence of surviving Thylacines.

  31. #31 Douglas Greene
    August 19, 2010

    . . . and, as others have pointed out, the stripes are entirely wrong for a Thylacine.

  32. #32 Kay
    August 19, 2010

    Very interesting! The front end looks very much painted in. This is especially noticeable on the head, where the tree branches “overlap” it (in a very intentional looking manner). The head ends abruptly, no traces of it visible between the leaves. There’s an unnatural shadow being cast there also.
    The back end looks real, like a wallaby bent over. But the front half looks blatantly painted.

  33. #33 Nicholas Miotk
    August 19, 2010

    I don’t know what to make of this photography. I just have a bad feeling about it. To me the transition between the animal’s thorax and the surrounding bush looks like a straight papercut. The left foreleg appears to be too thin to bear the weight of an animal with such strongly developed shoulder girdle and head. My suspicion is that this is a cut & paste work similar to the “Cottingley Fairies” – photographies mentioned above by Greg Morrow.
    My idea is, that this fake animal is composed of two silhouettes meeting behind the bush in the middle, thus the apparent differences between the two halves of the animal.
    Of course this is not overtly substantiated, just my spontaneous thoughts on this subject.

    However, any large unknown carnivore appearing on photographies in the Australian State of Victoria must bring the “Yarri” to one’s mind.
    So my question is, what’s the opinion of an experienced and variously interested zoologist with some expertise in cryptozoological matters, on the riddle of the “Yarri” destined by Bernard Heuvelmans to be the cryptic animal closest to scientific acknowledgement.
    I would very appreciate your point of view, Darren.

  34. #34 shiva
    August 19, 2010

    The thing that always strikes me about this photo is the weirdly “cut-off” head – it appears to be a dead straight line, not a blurry line as would be expected if it was “partially obscured by foliage”. (I can’t see an “upper part of the head” at all, despite many here and elsewhere claiming to see it.*) The only thing that could explain that straight line cutting off the snout/head from the background for me would be that the photo is a collage (like the infamous “Kasai Rex” photo), with the “animal” cut out and placed on a background – but there are also 2 major problems with this explanation, namely a) why would someone cut out an animal with only half of its head? and b) the vegetation in front of the animal (in particular the one diagonal tree branch that looks to be clearly part of the same image as the background).

    *OK, i can see shapes that look very superficially like an “eye” and an “ear”, but to me they look like nothing more than pareidolia…

    So… this one seems frustratingly hard to prove either real or fake. If it’s a fake, it has a rather inexplicable obvious big mistake in it, and if it’s real, then the same part of the image is still rather inexplicable…

    As to the animal it appears to depict: I see a thick, distinctly marsupial tail (with the left hind leg overlapping and visually “merging” with it, but the tail carrying on for at least 3/4 the length of the animal’s torso), which rules out known carnivorans and ungulates. It’s more robust than any known thylacine, but with similar skinny, stiff-looking front legs (which are probably what gives the artiodactyl-like impression). Sort of looks like something that is to T. cynocephalus as something like a bull-terrier is to wild Canis. (I could write some dreadful Chrichtonesque fiction about an extinct civilisation’s domesticated guard-thylacines here… ;) )

    Hmmm, maybe it could be a fortuitously-shaped piece of dead wood, painted and stuck in the ground? That’s about all i can think of for plausible fakery options…

  35. #35 Richard Ashworth
    August 19, 2010

    This famous photo has been discussed on various forums over the years. I take the view that this photo depicts an animal belonging to the Thylacoleo family, not carnifex necessarily, but perhaps a related animal. Sightings of a large marsupial predator not fitting the description of the thylacine, date back to the days of the early colonists and continue to present times.
    Cheers

  36. #36 J.S. Lopes
    August 19, 2010

    The striped pattern looks like painted, at least partially, or a bit modified.

  37. #37 darwinsdog
    August 19, 2010

    There’s no reason to suspect a hoax unless some evidence suggests it. I’ve seen no substantial evidence of this photograph being a hoax presented by any of the posters. Jumping to the conclusion that it must be a hoax just because one can’t identify the animal doesn’t cut it.

    The animal looks nothing like a thylacoleonid, which belonged to an entirely different order than thylacinids belong(ed?) to. No way this animal could climb trees and at the size of a labrador dog it isn’t big enough to be Thylacoleo carnifex which was nearly the size of a lion. The coat pattern is wrong for it to be Thylacinus cynocephalus and the head appears to be too robust. It definitely resembles a thylacinid of some sort, however. My hypothesis is that the animal in the photograph represents a species of thylacinid similar to Thylacinus potens although it is more likely to be an unknown species of this, or of a closely related genus. It was likely an individual of a cryptic and relic population of thylacinid that may survive to this day but is probably extinct.

  38. #38 leecris
    August 19, 2010

    All of you photo “hoax” proponents must not remember what Kodak Brownie cameras were like in 1964. They used big 126 black-and-white film that came on rolls with 12 exposures. The lens was fixed and the focus not adjustable. It would be difficult to perpetrate a hoax with equipment this rudimentary. How would you know you got a good shot, especially if you were a tourist on vacation when you took it?

    In 2010 with a fancy fast digital camera, pictures of ordinary animals among vegetation by the roadside can be cryptic. The photographer must hurry to take a picture before the animal disappears. I agree that this is an unknown animal photographed forty-six years ago by an amateur using a very simple camera. The only way to get a more definitive answer would be to locate the negative, which was probably long since destroyed.

  39. #39 Noni Mausa
    August 19, 2010

    A few words from my two fields of expertise — small-town newspapers, and purebred dogs.

    First, if Rilla was paid for this photo, it wouldn’t have been much. Small town papers (and big ones too, often) don’t pay the general public for photos. The fact that they lost her negative doesn’t surprise me at all.Don’t ever send a publication your original, it is almost certain you’ll never see it again.

    Secondly, this photo could be a “crossbred” fake — partly true (Rilla’s photo) and partly false (the stripes on the forequarters.) Those stripes just look wrong, above and beyond not matching the usual thylacine pattern. I would guess they were added rather than just emphasized, in the newspaper’s darkroom.

    Now on to whether this is a dog, whether dead, live or stuffed..

    The forequarters, looking so queerly stiff and upright, is not a problem in considering a dog as candidate here. Many dogs, purebred or mongrel, have what are called “straight shoulders” — that is, the first shoulder joint is not bent enough. In most breeds this is a fault. But it’s hardly uncommon.

    The heavy deep chested body isn’t a problem either. Maybe this is a myostatin mutant like the double-muscled bully whippets you get now and then. (Info and some weird pictures here: http://blog.cobankopegi.com/2007/06/bully-whippets-genetics.html)

    So then — is it some sort of dog? Heck no. The tail is the giveaway. There is no member of Canis with a tail like that, not even among the purebred oddities we raise as pets. The low on-set, the thick base narrowing smoothly like a dog’s best try at a kangaroo tail, and the length of it guarantee it’s no dog.

    I’d love to know about these critters too. Hey! Let’s set up cryptid-cams in remote but likely places, and watch for the weird critters in real time, while drinking cocoa and lounging on the sofa.

  40. #40 Mokele
    August 19, 2010

    What if it’s a thylacine, but a very badly stuffed one? Maybe something mounted decades ago, when they were still around, left mouldering somewhere, then someone decided to “touch it up” with stripes (getting the wrong end) etc.

    It would take care of the “proportions” issue – I’ve seen taxidermies that make wolves look like iguanas they’re so bad.

  41. #41 Tenebras
    August 19, 2010

    The more I look at the creature’s “tail” the less I see a tail and the more it looks like simply a part of the very unnatural looking back leg. Which makes me think the whole back leg might not be a part of the figure at all, but simply detritus on the ground serendipitously positioned.

    The stripes don’t look right to be sun dappling. The foliage around the creature is full of small twigs and brush, whereas the stripes would suggest long thick branches with few twiggy bits or leaves in between. I agree that it could have been done in the darkroom by the newspaper. Even for stripes on an animal’s coat, they look just a little too “perfect”.

  42. #42 Chris Rehberg
    August 19, 2010

    Great write-up, Darren.

    The other common name for this animal is “Rilla’s Critter”.

    The first time I saw this photo the forequarters seemed to me to be very horse-like. I agree most striping is likely caused by light/shadow.

    I have heard, though don’t have references to hand, that features of the head were added by a newspaper editor to the original negative before printing – this includes the apparent eyelashes. At the same time I was told that at least one print had been made prior to the negatives being modified, but that print has been lost.

    Another part of the story, which you alluded to, was that she had been talking about this animal (or type of animal) either the same day or just prior – hence her words “here’s the animal I was talking about” – that is, literally just talking about within the past few days.

    Although you note that mainland survival of the thylacine is another discussion altogether, given the various dates and years quoted throughout the article it might have been good to balance the 3,000 year view (of extinction) with Robert Paddle’s case for survival through to the 1800s. The evidence he discovered included a South Australian bounty for thylacines, an Aboriginal eye-witness account in South Australia, and two freshly-killed specimens being examined by a European naturalist – in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, and most likely the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

    Chris.
    http://www.wherelightmeetsdark.com
    On Facebook: http://bit.ly/fb-wlmd

  43. #43 Chris Rehberg
    August 19, 2010

    Oh – and one last detail I forgot: some say the animal moved its head during the taking of the photograph, producing something of a “double exposure” in that region – it was a box brownie camera, so theoretically the exposure time may have been long, though other elements in the photo do not appear to show camera-shake.

    Someone asked why the animal is side-on instead of reacting to the human visitor who arrived by car. If the animal was familiar with humans it might not have cared – think farm animals.

    Chris.
    http://www.wherelightmeetsdark.com
    On Facebook: http://bit.ly/fb-wlmd

  44. #44 Moro Rogers
    August 20, 2010

    The second photo is a lot more convincing than the first one…Even if the first one is real, the retouching gives it a pretty fake look.

  45. #45 CP
    August 20, 2010

    I get a general sense that the photo has at least been touched up.

    However, I “see” it as a uniformly light animal with dark stripes on the forequarters and tail rather than a dark animal with white stripes.

  46. #46 Alan Kellogg
    August 20, 2010

    If only the photo was in color.

  47. #47 David Marjanović
    August 20, 2010

    I wrote comment 14 when 13 wasn’t up yet.

  48. #48 Jan Ritzau
    August 20, 2010

    I get the impression it could be 2 animals, one standing with the side at the photographer and one in front of it facing the photographer.
    In other words… 2 Thylacines ? ;o)
    Jan

  49. #49 Dartian
    August 20, 2010

    It looks like a late-surviving Thylacinus potens, the Powerful thylacine

    and

    I’m with Anonymous in post #11. A Thylacinus potens or some other robust thylacinid

    How can you be so confident about what Thylacinus potens looked like? That species is only known from a single, incomplete upper jaw, and we have thus far discovered no remains of its postcranial skeleton.

    There’s no reason to suspect a hoax unless some evidence suggests it.

    The only “evidence” we have is that photograph; everything else surrounding this incident is unverified (and unverifiable?) hearsay. And the most generous thing that can be said about that photograph is that by its own it is inconclusive.

    It definitely resembles a thylacinid of some sort

    The body form doesn’t match that of the Recent thylacine. T. cynocephalus does not have that kind of a massive bull neck, nor is it that front-heavy. The photo and Darren’s reconstruction suggest that that’s an animal with a sloping back. That is not the case with the thylacine; it has more massive hind quarters, relatively speaking, as well as slightly longer hind- than forelimbs (noticeable in this picture, for example).

  50. #50 Andreas Johansson
    August 20, 2010

    49 comments and no-one’s suggested it’s a gorgonopsian yet? I’m disappointed, people.

  51. #51 Ben Breuer
    August 20, 2010

    Not a cryptozoologist here, or zoologist at all really. Still, some observations:

    My first impression was of an animal (real or stuffed) half-facing me, with both eyes (potentially at least) visible, its front leg raised stiffly. The head seemed quite small for the front-body of the animal, which may be an effect of the head’s angle toward the photographer. Lower jaw / chin rounded, mouth closed. The first dark stripe perhaps part of a mane, or jowl, hence the head seems smaller? Ears tipped but rounded, the animal’s left ear at the upper end of the first stripe; the right one not clearly discernible but probably the triangular dark spot, probably seeing the inside. Dark grey (not black) spot is the end of the snout, which comes across as broad, indeed a bit pig-like.

    In my second inspection I’m seeing the animal in near-profile, the left eye visible as a dark spot, my earlier right ear. There are some weird light reflexes on the snout. The black spot to the left is now the end of a narrower, fox- or jackal-like snout. My prior foreshortened snout is now the left lower jaw, and the ears the three lighter grey smudges above the former ears. The head seems indeed “decayed” or weirdly obscured by shadows.

    The hind legs are also weird. I see an elongate black spot which amy be either the left leg or the sole of the right foot.

    My guess, photo of a real animal. My “first head” would fit the idea that the animal is turning towards the photographer even as it is moving preparing to run away. (The left haunch seems to ready for a jump?) The right foreleg seems caught frozen in some activity (pawing around the log?). Once the photo got to the newspaper, it was enhaced (?), and perhaps the head made more like a dingo’s, turning it to face the left side of the picture and narrowing the snout.

    My 0.02!

  52. #52 Anonymous
    August 20, 2010

    Dartian :

    How can you be so confident about what Thylacinus potens looked like? That species is only known from a single, incomplete upper jaw, and we have thus far discovered no remains of its postcranial skeleton.

    I have seen this picture on wikipedia :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacinus_potens

    I think it pretty matches with the photography, it is the closest thing I found to compare with this cryptid. And to me the drawing doesn’t show the sloping back and neither does the photo.

  53. #53 Dave Hughes
    August 20, 2010

    “I have seen this picture on wikipedia :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacinus_potens

    I think it pretty matches with the photography, it is the closest thing I found to compare with this cryptid. And to me the drawing doesn’t show the sloping back and neither does the photo.”

    But that drawing is just an anonymous artist’s half-baked notion of what T. potens looked like. It has no scientific validity whatsoever. As Dartian says, all we have is an incomplete jaw, which makes all such “reconstructions” merely exercises in speculation. Popular books and websites on paleontology are full of pictures like this, many of them of equally dubious value.

    I love these “what’s in this photo?” challenges as much as anybody. They’re great fun. But on further reflection what they bring home is the utter futility of this aspect of crptozoology. We have one fuzzy, indistinct image of something that may or may not be a real animal, on a photo that may or may not have been tampered with, and some people are earnestly debating whether it could show a Miocene thylacinid, whose body proportions and fur colouration we have absolutely no knowledge of. If this is all the “evidence” there is, we could discuss the photo till doomsday and not move any futher forward. It’s a fun parlour game, but let’s not mistake it for science.

  54. #54 Mandy
    August 20, 2010

    I believe that nothing about the lighting of the scene is right for those to be dappling.

  55. #55 Onychomys
    August 20, 2010

    I, for one, have always preferred this T. potens reconstruction.

    http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b101/perfusionman/st2.jpg

    But that might just be me.

  56. #56 Darren Naish
    August 20, 2010

    Nice work, Onychomys :) Thanks to all for continuing comments.

    I’ve just ‘discovered’ something I hadn’t noticed before: what looks like a (?metallic) ‘support’ that appears to be propping up the rear part of the animal. Needless to say, if this interpretation is correct, hoaxing is definitely on the cards. And appropriate credit (and apology) is due to Passerby (comment 6) who might have been referring to the same structure. OR – - is this just more pareidolia? An update has been added to the bottom of the article, please have a look.

  57. #57 Anonymous
    August 20, 2010

    Now with this update, I am siding more towards the hoax theory. But I not entirely sure. It also looks like this cryptid is stepping over a small trunk alternatively shady.

  58. #58 Andreas Johansson
    August 20, 2010

    I had, without thinking too much about it, interpreted that “structure” as the left hind leg (and the rear part of you identify as the leg as part of the tail).

  59. #59 darwinsdog
    August 20, 2010

    Dartian:

    How can you be so confident about what Thylacinus potens looked like?

    I don’t know what Thylacinus potens looked like. All I know is that it was a more robust thylacinid than T. cynocephalus. You yourself say “T. cynocephalus does not have that kind of a massive bull neck, nor is it that front-heavy.” I agree. Nor does the coat pattern of T. cynocephalus resemble that of the animal in the photograph. I don’t know what the coat patten of T. potens looked like but it likely differed from that of T. cynocephalus. I don’t think it likely that the animal in the photo is the Miocene T. potens. I said “My hypothesis is that the animal in the photograph represents a species of thylacinid similar to Thylacinus potens although it is more likely to be an unknown species of this, or of a closely related genus,” and I stand by that hypothesis until it is refuted by evidence, such as the negatives being found and demonstrating definitive signs of having been tampered with.

  60. #60 darwinsdog
    August 20, 2010

    OR – - is this just more pareidolia?

    I would say so. It doesn’t look any different from other pieces of woody debris lying about. Looks to me like a piece of wood in front of the animal’s left hind leg. The close-up of the back half of the animal is revealing in one aspect: the stripes on the tail now appear to be stick shadows, unlike the broader stripes on the neck & thorax.

  61. #61 Anonymous
    August 20, 2010

    Finally I side with Darwinsdog, the supporting structure idea doesn’t convince me.

  62. #62 bigcitylib
    August 20, 2010

    Could the “support” not be the hind limb on the body’s far side?

  63. #63 Mu
    August 20, 2010

    While I first thought “Okapi front with tiger backend, seam hidden by bush”, the set-up doesn’t look right for a hoax. It seems a lot of work (especially in the boonies of 1964 Australia) for not a lot to show for. The posture doesn’t look right for a “modified stuffed animal”, and if the strange looking pieces are supports, someone went through all that to get a at least reasonable looking creature but made such obvious blunders? But then, people tended to get really bored before the invention of satellite tv and the internet, so who knows.

  64. #64 Jeff Johnson
    August 20, 2010

    I told myself I would stay out of this, looks like I can’t. Researched this photo for over a decade and a half, even talked to someone very close to the photographer. Contacted the Wimmera-Mail Times editor to see if I could buy the rights to this photo, and anything they still had around. They didn’t know who owned the rights, and had nothing left. Paul Cropper has the original print, though.

    Rilla told her relatives she had photographed a strange animal on the way home from the reunion. When she got it developed, that’s when she said “here is the animal I was talking about”.

    The original print was only 2 x 3 inches, so the negative was tiny also. In order to “tamper” with it, they would have had to blow it up and re-shoot it. A small amount of re-touching was done around the head, no mucking with the stripes. The support structure is wishful thinking. Looks natural to me, as the right side edge of it is actually the rock just forward of the animal.

    It worries me that this photo is so easily dismissed by many as a hoax. If real(and I think it is)it is a very important document of a marsupial seen by many, yet has eluded science. It’s just easier to write it off than solve the problem.

    Sure, the animal has a strange pose, but you have to remember, it is a snapshot of a moment of movement. The animal didn’t walk around this way or keep this pose all of the time, to be sure. I have talked to a number of people that have seen this same type of animal. They say it drags the tail along as it runs, like a rudder, and has an almost comical gait, bobbing back and forth as it moves. A naturalist that saw it up close told me it looked and moved like a arboreal animal on the ground.

    I would dive on a thylacine if I saw it up close, to try to capture it. I would not do so with the Rilla critter. With that front end, which was obviously used to grapple with prey(why have such a huge neck and muscular arms?)this thing could inflict serious damge.

    The muzzle is way too short to be any sort of thylacine. I have done photographic overlays placing skulls of a couple of possible contenders over the head, lining up the eye and the back of skull. The skull of the thylacine is too long, as it extends beyond the end of the nose of the Rilla subject, even without being fleshed out. Not surprising, considering the nose-to-eye measurements on a thylacine skull is greater than the eye-to-back of the skull. On the Rilla subject, this formula is reversed. It has a shorter. deeper nose, and frankly, the end of it looks like the end of a mail box.

    In order to have that odd-ball snout, something has to be going on inside to cause the development of that pig-like nose structure. Really large incisors, perhaps? It does seem that teeth are protruding from the front of the mouth in the photo. That or maybe just white spots on the front of the lips?

    I overlayed the skull of thylacoleo over the head of the photo, and it is a very close fit. So, for what it is worth, I think the animal is a thylacoleonid of some sort. Before I get piled on, we don’t know what thylacoleo looked like in the flesh(I know we have the skeleton, but that only takes you so far))or how it moved or behaved. I think it had a totally unique appearance, and photo may be a window into that. Shouten’s latest thylacoleo painting looks a lot like the animal in the photo, and that cave painting discovered by Willing of a possible thylacoleo looks much like the animal in the photo too(down to the scrawny back legs and big muscular front ones). And then there’s the patterned ring around the eye, both present in the photo and the cave painting.

    For what it is worth, this is my opinion.

  65. #65 Dave Hughes
    August 20, 2010

    Jeff: fascinating stuff, and although I’m still a sceptic, I would love to be proven wrong and for your explanation to be the correct one. Do you have any links to these alleged rock paintings of Thylacoleo? I’ve never heard of these before.

    Also, how much has that area of Victoria changed since 1964? Is there enough wild country still around that could support a cryptic large carnivore, or are we looking at the one and only photo of a species that we no longer have any hope of finding alive?

  66. #66 moronicus
    August 20, 2010

    looks like a aligator head on a tabby cat body

  67. #67 John Halas
    August 20, 2010

    If this is indeed a mammal; couldn’t the supposed supportive structure actually be a semi-erect penis?

  68. #68 J.S. Lopes
    August 20, 2010

    Suddenly occurred to me that this animal can be an ordinary tiger, with its head intentionally blurred and re-painted by some photo trick.

  69. #69 Richard Pharo
    August 20, 2010

    Hi Darren,
    I’m with the people who think this is a hoax, or just about, as this photo makes poor evidence for anything, unfortunately. I can only actually see one leg – the left foreleg. The other thing at the front looks more like a support, and similar to the back bit you also think looks like a support. Where does the other back leg go? Does it just vanish? As for the head, it’s almost not there, and what we can see looks as much like background vegetation as anything else.
    As has been mentioned, there would have been some adulteration to make this fit for newspaper printing, so my opinion is, if it truly represents a cryptid, the evidence is too poor to tell. Shame.

  70. #70 darwinsdog
    August 20, 2010

    Thanks for the fascinating additional information Jeff. The “Rilla Critter” is too small to be a Thylacoleo carnifex but there were smaller species of thylacoleonid. Unlike T. carnifex, however, none of these smaller species are known to have persisted past the Pliocene. The main problem I have with interpreting the animal in the photo as a thylacoleonid is that it obviously exhibits a cursorial adapted morphology whereas the semi-opposable thumbs, retractable claws and structure of the shoulder girdle indicate that Thylacoleo could climb trees. Also, thylacoleonids didn’t have much of a tail whereas the animal in the photo appears to have a massive tail. I can’t make out much detail of the animal’s head but if we only had the head to go on, I might be more inclined towards the hypothesis that the animal was some sort of thylacoleonid. Its post-cranial morphology appears much more in keeping with the notion that it’s a rather robust species of thylacinid.

  71. #71 MIKE SHERIDAN
    August 20, 2010

    Looks like Carl Buells Andrewsarchus.

  72. #72 Jeff Johnson
    August 20, 2010

    Thanks for that Dave. The area has changed over time, and doesn’t have as much wilderness. The Quest for Thylacoleo visted the site sometime back, and it seems this place is more open now. They did find a number of sheep skeletons there, but they could have died in a number ways. I think the animal was just moving through the area at the time. It had been sighted by locals just prior to Rilla photographing it, as well as reports of livestock kills and strange screams being heard.

    Reports of the “Queensland Tiger” are still coming in, and I am sure they are still around. They might look like a thylacine to some(which it does, somewhat)and may be behind some mainland thylacine sightings. What else do they have to compare it to? It is a large striped carnivore, so a thylacine is the closest thing many can relate it to. When I look at it, it reminds me of a cross between a huge possum and a cat.

    The cave painting was covered in Darren’s post about the “jaws” photo, and was published in Antiquity. Another cave painting has been discovered since probably showing another thylacoleo, again covered by Antiquity. Here’s a thought: I know this is very unlikely, and has no supporting evidence, but what if the creature is a unknown mainland form of giant quoll or giant devil, filling the void left by the demise of thylacoleo? Fun to think about….

  73. #73 Ricard Freeman
    August 20, 2010

    I think itsa thylacine. The ‘stripes’ on the fore part are caused by light and shade from trees. The ‘support’ i thin, is a broken branch. The jaw line and hind quarters look very like a thylacine.

  74. #74 Jeff Johnson
    August 20, 2010

    Thanks darwinsdog, some good points. I would say that these animals have been seen climbing, even to the point of the aborigines warning don’t dare follow it when it flees up a tree, or risk a savage attack(see Yarri). Now there coud be 2 different large striped cat-like animals roaming modern day Australia, one that could climb and one that cannot. But I am guessing there is only one.

    Rilla said the animal was about the size of a large dog(shepard)and if my dog had a tail that long, it would approach 6 ft. That’s close to keeping in size to carnifex, it think. I wouldn’t say thylacoleo or its kin had a little tails, (heck, correct me if I am wrong, but a tail that was longer and broader than a thylacine’s in relation to the body) I think they sported substantial tails. If the rear legs were held at a strange angle during movement(maybe like we see in the photo), a lot of might drag the ground. It all boils down to how low to the ground thylacoleo held the rear of the body. The program Catalyst about the discovery of the first full skeleton showed that thylacoleo used its tail like a kangaroo to balance on so it could stand on its hind legs and scan the area for prey. All I can say is: you never know. Cheers

  75. #75 Darren Naish
    August 20, 2010

    Re: my ‘support object’ idea… I’m more than happy to admit it as pareidolia. It depends on whether you regard the area to the right of the ‘support’ (and beneath the left leg) as a rock or not. If this is a rock, the ‘support’ is best interpreted as an artefact of light, shade and partially obscured (dark) objects beneath the belly. But, I have to say… it doesn’t look like a rock to me. I remain nonplussed, and matters like this mean that I partially agree with Dave Hughes (comment 53) on the futility of these little exercises.

    As Jeff noted (comment 72), the alleged thylacoleonid cave art was previously covered here. I’m really very surprised to hear (comment 64) that Paul Cropper has the ‘original print’. Really?? I’ll ask Paul asap (but I’m about to disappear for a while, so no quick responses).

    As always, thanks to everyone for the great comments and discussion. Your comments and ideas are appreciated.

  76. #76 puppygod
    August 20, 2010

    [from Darren: sorry, delayed by spam-filter]

    I wonder what are the chances of somewhat malnourished striped hyena roaming Australia… Anybody knows if there are any kept as (illegal, I presume) pets? General shape seems to be consistent with that of striped hyena caught in the middle of stepping above some rock and pattern is also similar. Run-away extant animal is more plausible hypothesis than Pleistocene survivor, IMHO.

  77. #77 David Marjanović
    August 21, 2010

    Suddenly occurred to me that this animal can be an ordinary tiger, with its head intentionally blurred and re-painted by some photo trick.

    Tigers are not ordinary in Australia!

  78. #78 Dartian
    August 21, 2010

    Darwinsdog:

    All I know is that [Thylacinus potens] was a more robust thylacinid than T. cynocephalus.

    Actually, you don’t even know that for sure. Robustness is something relative, and it doesn’t always correlate positively with body size; a smaller species may very well be more ‘robust’ than its larger relative. For example, a wallaroo is more robustly built than a great red kangaroo, a jaguar is more robustly built than a lion, and a chimpanzee is, in most respects, more robustly built than a human.

  79. #79 Jerzy
    August 21, 2010

    You know, the photo is so bad and the object so unlike any known mammal, with these smears on forebody, that one needs much good will to discuss it seriously.

    It matches a dog as well or better than thylacine. It can be a sculpted and painted tree trunk, and quality is so low that you wouldn’t know.

    Maybe let’s talk about New Guinean thylacines and megalanias. As the Australasian cryptids go, they have much better probability and received less interest.

  80. #80 Jeff Johnson
    August 21, 2010

    Here’s what Paul says about the photo he has(took me a while to dig this up from another forum!)

    “In ‘Out of the Shadows’ Tony and I featured a direct (maybe 2nd gen) copy of Rillas photo. I got it from Janiece Plunkett (the Queensland tiger hunter) who got it sometime in the late 60s. I still have the original in my files somewhere. I’d say the shot in our book is the best one out there, and that’s including the ones in the local press at the time. Cheers Paul.”

  81. #81 Longfinmako
    August 21, 2010

    To me the species duo robust thylacinid/thylacinus cynocephalus could be respectively analogous with the Grey wolf/coyote one.

  82. #82 Chris M.
    August 21, 2010

    The thread is still hopping, so after getting through the whole thing, I’ll just make some image/perspective comments.

    One, it looks like there’s a shrub branch that drops down to obscure the head; it’s hard to see what you can conclude about it.

    Two, those forequarter stripes look terrible. The way the ends lighten (in addition to narrowing) really makes it look like the paper went after it in the darkroom. That, and they don’t really vary in intensity with the surrounding coat color; they’re the same at the height of the back with full light as at the belly? Come on now.

    Given those two points, the stripes may be giving the wrong impression of how the neck is oriented. Ignoring them, I’d personally guess that the animal’s head is turned toward the photographer, which could pretty well explain why the neck looks so robust. Also much more likely behaviorally.

    And again for the robustness, go back to that last picture of a thylacine, and look at the rear leg; the thing is practically a bag of bones!

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that this doesn’t look (mostly) faked to me; aside from the front stripes, there’s nothing obviously wrong. And since that picture of a thylacine from life sure looks like it’s in poor health (as are most we’ve probably got from captive animals), this seems reasonably to be within the healthy range for one.

    Of course, seeing a live thylacine is fascinating enough on its own; I’d love to see some better evidence.

  83. #83 JJM
    August 22, 2010

    Has anyone noticed the color difference around the left shoulder? Especially in magnification, it looks like the left forelag is cut out somewhere else and then glued to rest.

  84. #84 Terry Hunt
    August 22, 2010

    I can’t add much to the foregoing comments, some by people obviously with far more (crypto)zoological knowledge than myself. For what little it’s worth, my assessment would be that it’s a photo of a genuine though not necessarily live animal, not a thylacine but related, touched up by the newspaper’s darkroom as was pretty routine practice for the era. The apparent lack of effort on the photographer’s part to exploit the image more argues for her sincerity.

    One thing I would question is the dismissal by some of the animal’s possible identity as a thylacoleo (or close relative) on the grounds of its smaller size. Might it not be a juvenile? This could also go some way towards explaining the anomalous (for an adult) markings: I’d expect that if/when the picture lab played with the picture, they would have exaggerated stripes, etc but not invented them entirely, so the animal likely did have markings somewhat like those now seen, but less distinct.

  85. #85 Alpha
    August 22, 2010

    To me it looks like a giant shell-less armadillo, I wonder if such a thing could exist though.

  86. #86 Noni Mausa
    August 22, 2010

    And finally, since this thread seems to be wrapping up–

    Doesn’t it seem odd to you that the hoax crypto photos we get seem to be uniformly bad hoaxes?

    Really now — we have seen ET flying in a bicycle basket and what’s his name flying on the shoulders of a Gavilandora maxima, you would think that mocking up a convincing blurry photo of Ogopogo or a tatzelwurm would be fairly easy.

    I ask you, where are all the competent hoaxes?

  87. #87 Dartian
    August 23, 2010

    Chris:

    that picture of a thylacine from life sure looks like it’s in poor health

    Which thylacine picture do you mean? The one with the chicken in its mouth from Darren’s post, or the photo that I linked to in comment #49? If it’s the former, please note that there is some doubt as to whether that particular thylacine is a live specimen rather than a stuffed one (see comments #22 and #28). If it’s the latter, please explain because I don’t see any obvious signs of poor health in that animal.

    (as are most we’ve probably got from captive animals)

    Why would you assume that captive thylacines would mostly be in poor health? The available information suggests that thylacines were reasonably easy to maintain in captivity, and that they were neither particularly fussy eaters nor particularly sickly. (The sub-standard conditions at Hobart Zoo in the nineteen thirties were an anomaly; in other zoos, thylacines were usually kept under better conditions.)

    Terry:

    the dismissal by some of the animal’s possible identity as a thylacoleo (or close relative) on the grounds of its smaller size

    Keep in mind that nobody knows exactly how large that thing is. (Unless, of course, it’s a hoax; in that case, the hoaxer obviously knows.) We have no actual measurements to go by. Rilla Martin apparently estimated it to be the size of a ‘large’ dog, but exactly what kind of dog seems to be unclear; Darren refers to a Labrador Retriever in his post while Jeff in comment #74 refers to a shepherd dog. (But what kind of shepherd dog? A Kelpie? A Border Collie? An Alsatian? Different shepherd dog breeds vary considerably in size.) More importantly however, based on the available information, we can’t independently verify how good Rilla Martin’s estimate is. If she was mistaken about the size (in either direction), how could we tell? The margin of error here is unknown. Saying that that animal is ‘too small to be a thylacoleonid’ is to go way beyond what the evidence says.

    Noni:

    a convincing blurry photo

    If the photo is blurry, it usually isn’t very convincing…

    I ask you, where are all the competent hoaxes?

    Presumably, the most competent hoaxes haven’t (yet) been exposed as hoaxes. (If you want an actual example, ‘Piltdown Man’ was, at least by the standards of its time, a very competent hoax; it took about forty years to finally expose it for what it really was.)

  88. #88 john
    August 23, 2010

    nice research wana see aom more about small creatures…will surely visit again for that.

  89. #89 Jerzy
    August 23, 2010

    The ‘creature’ has very unusual ‘ribcage’. Forward part, where upper ribs would be, sticks down much more than back part, where lower ribs would be. And then abrupt angle of neck, with no room for a windpipe. Try to imagine its bones. This is not like real quadrupedal animals are build.

    Together with the missing face and those spots shaped like bean-pods, I think it is not live animal at all. Some tree trunk or poorly made sculpture.

  90. #90 CP
    August 23, 2010

    Setting aside the question of the validity of the photo. And, assuming that a surviving population of Thylacoleo carnifex exists. Then, why should it be expected that they would be as large as the fossil material?

    If T. carnifex specialized in killing Diprotodon and other megafauna that were largely or completely extirpated between 40000 and 50000 years ago, it seems possible that a low density surviving population could have been placed under substantial selective pressure favoring reduced size. Essentially, an effect comparable to island dwarfing under conditions where their “preferred prey” were no longer available and they had to survive on a less than optimal diet…

  91. #91 Kaje
    August 23, 2010

    Alpha #84- I believe such a creature is what is known as an “illo.”

    *rimshot*

  92. #92 Jeff Johnson
    August 23, 2010

    Rilla said alsatian dog, and I was thinking that was the same as a german shepard.

    I keep hearing how blurry the photo is, but I don’t think it is that “blurry” at all. Pretty good photo considering the camera, and the conditions it was taken under. It is not a blob, just strange. We can see what is in the photo. We just don’t know what animal it is.

    Poorly made sculpture? I am an animal sculptor, it’s what I do for a living. And if that is a sculpture, she did a great job.

    Good points CP, about the possible reduction in size based on diet change.

  93. #93 kris
    August 23, 2010

    zomg — i’ve been looking at this photo for two days now until I at last realized what the light striping and the creatures particularly powerful neck remind me of: don’t you all see, it’s BATTLECAT!!!
    http://www.comicvine.com/battle-cat/29-16425/all-images/108-213045/he_man_battlecat1/105-521746/

  94. #94 Chris M.
    August 23, 2010

    Dartian:

    That’s a considerably healthier-looking specimen you link to in #49; I was referring to the one in the post. Looked around a bit, and most of the other pictures also appear to be bulkier than this one. The depth of the chest does appear to be beyond the range of most of those photos, but again, we don’t know the actual angle of the neck, which (along with the uncertain stopping point at the ruff due to the likely-faked stripes) could throw this estimate off.

  95. #95 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    #83:

    One thing I would question is the dismissal by some of the animal’s possible identity as a thylacoleo (or close relative) on the grounds of its smaller size. Might it not be a juvenile?

    #89:

    ..it seems possible that a low density surviving population could have been placed under substantial selective pressure favoring reduced size.

    Good points except that the objection to the animal being some sort of thylacoleonid isn’t based on size. It’s based on morphological differences between cursorial & scansorial locomotion. Take a good look at the photograph. Does anyone think that the animal in the photograph could climb trees? To my mind, everything about its anatomy indicates that the animal is built to run and is not built to climb trees. Perhaps it could run up sloping tree trunks, after the manner of a gray fox, but Thylacoleo was well adapted to an arboreal lifestyle and this animal simply isn’t.

  96. #96 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    Darwinsdog:

    All I know is that [Thylacinus potens] was a more robust thylacinid than T. cynocephalus.

    Actually, you don’t even know that for sure.

    ARCHER, M., 1982. A review of Miocene thylacinids (Thylacinidae, Marsupialia), the phylogenetic position of the Thylacinidae and the problem of apriorisms in character analysis. In “Carnivorous Marsupials – Vol. 2″ (Ed. M. Archer). Roy. Zool. Soc. N.S.W.: Sydney. pp. 445-76.:

    “This thylacine [Thylacinus potens] had a considerably more massive build than the modern species, and had a somewhat shorter, broader skull..”

    A description quite consistent with the appearance of the animal in the photograph. Once again, I doubt very much that this animal actually is a late Miocene relict. Rather, I interpret it as a modern thylacine of somewhat larger size and more robust or “massive” build than T. cynocephalus.

  97. #97 AnJaCo
    August 23, 2010

    As has been pointed out:
    1. the stripes on the front don’t look natural
    2. the head/face is unrecognizable. Like looking for familiar shapes in clouds.

    The quality of any conclusion depends on the quality of the evidence, in this case the photo. [To state the obvious].

    Key points [for me] from Darren:

    …what the hell is going on with the striping?

    …Martin herself said that she didn’t much notice the stripes when taking the photograph.

    …all the versions you see here and elsewhere are scans of copies published by newspapers

    …Paul Cropper has the ‘original print’. Really?? I’ll ask Paul asap (but I’m about to disappear for a while, so no quick responses).

    If the original print can be found and scanned and shown to the world, we may know something more. Until then it is just: Indeterminate.

  98. #98 shiva
    August 23, 2010

    Here’s something odd that just struck me:

    The famous cave painting of a presumed Thylacoleo carnifex has both a striped pattern broadly similar to that in the Rilla photo *and*, like the Rilla photo, a strangely “chopped-off” or partially missing head/face.

    This would lead me to consider the possibility that the Rilla photo was either hoaxed or “touched up” with the cave painting as inspiration… if not for the fact that the Rilla photo was published in 1964, while the cave painting was only “discovered” in 2008.

    So… presumably just a coincidence, unless you’re going to presume that a) someone knew of the cave painting in 1964 and hoaxed or touched up a photo with it as a reference, b) the cave painting itself is a hoax, or c) the animal depicted in the painting is the same animal Rilla Martin photographed, and it has some odd camouflage feature that causes its face to look like it has been “chopped off”… all of which sound pretty unlikely (although i have to say option c) sounds rather like something the CFZ would come up with ;) )

  99. #99 AD
    August 23, 2010

    Hmm, a little late, but anyway.
    I would like to focus on the part that is perhaps clearest: the front quarters/shoulder region. Someone with good knowledge of tetrapod, particularly mammalian, anatomy and skeletal structure should be able to analyze what the underlying bone assemblage would look like there. To me, the narrow legs and powerful chest/torso, plus the general arrangement of parts, really REALLY look like a long-legged ungulate, and really don’t look like a pouncing predator. The elbow is in the wrong place, the scapula is in the wrong place, etc. In fact I would say it looks like an okapi except the stripes are on the wrong end (and of course, the tail). Failing that, it looks like a horse, painted. Or a cutout with some poorly painted stripes. THAT I’m sure country folk could gin up (Would also explain the weird head- probably harder to reproduce a thylacoleo head as a farm hand, but easier to reproduce a horse torso).

    Darren, I disagree with your interpretation of the ‘support’, it could just as easily be background and that doesn’t jump out at me as the most suspect thing about the photograph.

  100. #100 Robert Kolk
    August 23, 2010

    This picture has me looking at it very day. It’s an obvious hoax, a picture of some scrubs, but the animal doesn’t fit in at all. It is like one is looking at two pictures that are overlain and there is some very obvious manipulation. The striping looks wrong and the tail end is just all blurred. The animal is just plain weird. Like it is walking on stumps and where is the upper part of its head? So, what picture of an animal did they use?
    I think they used the picture of galloping horse and inserted the part of its torso into the photograph of the scrubs. The front part has me thinking of a horse every time. The high shoulders and slender front legs. The lower jaw also reminds me of a horse. The upper part of the head has been blurred as has the back part and they have “painted” on some stripes while the photograph wasn’t fixated yet. It is really not that difficult to touch up a picture in the darkroom before fixating it.

  101. #101 David Marjanović
    August 24, 2010

    99 comments already! Won’t someone please think of the matamatá! ;-)

    “This thylacine [Thylacinus potens] had a considerably more massive build than the modern species, and had a somewhat shorter, broader skull..”

    And what evidence does Archer provide for that statement? Is it all based on that isolated maxilla or whatever it is?

    This isn’t a nonavian dinosaur you’re talking about. In the mammal world, where well-known (or even extant) close relatives are often available, people don’t hesitate to extrapolate even from half of a tooth.

    (I specify “nonavian” because of what paleornithologists claim to be able to do with half a coracoid…)

    The famous cave painting of a presumed Thylacoleo carnifex has [...] a striped pattern broadly similar to that in the Rilla photo

    It’s about as dissimilar as it can be and still count as “striped”. Have another look at that cave painting.

  102. #102 Dartian
    August 24, 2010

    Jeff:

    Rilla said alsatian dog, and I was thinking that was the same as a german shepard.

    Correct; those are just two different names for the same breed. (Except that it’s ‘shepherd’, not ‘shepard’.)

    Darwinsdog:

    the objection to the animal being some sort of thylacoleonid isn’t based on size. It’s based on morphological differences between cursorial & scansorial locomotion.

    You need to be much more careful when you use your terminology. Judging by the way you’re using the word ‘cursorial’ it seems that you’re confusing it with ‘terrestrial’, which is not the same thing. And Thylacinus cynocephalus was not cursorial, according to those researchers who have actually studied its morphology in detail (Jones & Stoddart, 1998).

    Take a good look at the photograph.

    Does looking at that photograph tell us what its hind limb length or its femur-metatarsal ratio is? You know, variables that you would actually need to know before you can even begin to meaningfully speculate about cursoriality and such? How can you even tell if that animal is plantigrade or digitigrade?

    Does anyone think that the animal in the photograph could climb trees?

    Careful there. By only looking at a snapping turtle, one wouldn’t think that it could climb a fence. But it can.

    A description quite consistent with the appearance of the animal in the photograph.

    That still doesn’t tell us anything certain about the postcranial morphology of T. potens. As long as the only material that we have of it consists of one incomplete jaw, the only thing that we can be reasonably sure about is that T. potens was larger than T. cynocephalus in terms of overall body size. Nobody, not even Mike Archer, knows if its head and body proportions were different from those of the Recent thylacine. We will know that if/when we discover its fossil postcranial remains. Not before.

    Reference:

    Jones, M.E. & Stoddart, D.M. 1998. Reconstruction of the predatory behaviour of the extinct marsupial thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus). Journal of Zoology, London 46, 239-246.

  103. #103 Dartian
    August 24, 2010

    Previous comment:

    if its head and body proportions were different

    …and, just to be clear, with that I meant the size of the head in relation to the body.

  104. #104 darwinsdog
    August 24, 2010

    #100:

    And what evidence does Archer provide for that statement? Is it all based on that isolated maxilla or whatever it is?

    I believe that additional T. potens material has been found but nothing post-cranial. Archer may have published before this more recently discovered material was available.

    #101:

    Judging by the way you’re using the word ‘cursorial’ it seems that you’re confusing it with ‘terrestrial’, which is not the same thing.

    I would call a tortoise ‘terrestrial’ but wouldn’t call it ‘cursorial.’

    By only looking at a snapping turtle, one wouldn’t think that it could climb a fence.

    Of course a snapper can climb a fence. For the all time best fence climbing turtle, I nominate the Asian big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum). These turtles are such climbers and escape artists that I named the one I had “Clymer.”

    Look, Dave Hughes says it all in post #53:

    I love these “what’s in this photo?” challenges as much as anybody. They’re great fun. But on further reflection what they bring home is the utter futility of this aspect of crptozoology. We have one fuzzy, indistinct image of something that may or may not be a real animal, on a photo that may or may not have been tampered with, and some people are earnestly debating whether it could show a Miocene thylacinid, whose body proportions and fur colouration we have absolutely no knowledge of. If this is all the “evidence” there is, we could discuss the photo till doomsday and not move any futher forward. It’s a fun parlour game, but let’s not mistake it for science.

    The photo may be a fraud and in any case is too indistinct to say anything for certain about it. If we are going to speculate “for fun” about what the animal may have been, discounting the possibility of a hoax, we need something to go on, however tenuous it may be. I’ve given my reasons for speculating that, if real, the animal may have been an unknown species of robust thylacinid, and why I think this interpretation is superior to viewing the animal as a thylacoleonid. It’s easy to criticize mere speculation Dartian. What do you think the animal may have been?

  105. #105 Jeff Johnson
    August 24, 2010

    “Except that it’s ‘shepherd’, not ‘shepard’” Got it! ;) Good points Dartian. This is obviously a photo of a “Queensland tiger”(although taken in NSW)and climbing is something they have been reported to do.

    David: “It’s about as dissimilar as it can be and still count as “striped”. True, but the painting does show that thylacoleo was a striped animal.

  106. #106 Stevo Darkly
    August 24, 2010

    I have something small to add.

    My first and admittedly weakest point: The forequarter stripes somehow look “unreal” to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it — too uniform in shade? — but they look “painted on.”

    One part of their “fake-lookingness” is the fact that the animal’s neck is raised to at least a 45-degree angle, yet the neck stripes are nearly vertical (from the point of view of the viewer). If the head were lowered so that the neck were held horizontally, those stripes would appear to sweep backward at a sharp angle of about 45 degrees.

    Generally, I’d expect an animal with a striped neck to have the stripes running perpendicular to the direction of the cervical spine — see, for example, a zebra. Thus, when the neck is held horizontally, the stripes would appear verticle — but when the animal’s neck is raised from the horizontal, the stripes would appear to be at an angle.

    However, as counterpoint, I do have to admit that the tiger (the placental felid, I mean) has neck stripes that appear to originate at the back of the skull and traverse the neck at a swept-back angle, something like the animal allegedly depicted in the photo.

    But! Here is something else interesting: Except perhaps for the head (which admittedly I can’t make out well at all) and the forequarter stripes, this animal vaguely resembles a thylacine. But as far as I know, all thylacines T. cynocephalus had stripes on their hindquarters only.

    While researching thylacines, however, I stumbled across the Tasmanian Coat of Arms — see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Tasmania . This features a depiction of two thylacines. Note that those thylacines are depicted as having — as far as I know, erroneous and fictitious — forequarter stripes on their necks and shoulders! In fact, these stripes strongly resemble the forequarter stripes shown in the photograph, except that the forequarter stripes in the coat of arms are dark whereas the ones in the photo are light.

    This leads me to 2 1/2 possible conclusions:

    1) The photo is hoax, intended to depict a thylacine — but the hoaxer’s somewhat confused knowledge of a thylacine’s appearance was heavily reliant upon the Tasmanian Coat of Arms, with the fictitious forequarter stripes. The hoaxer included the forequarter stripes thinking that a real thylacine would have them.

    1.5) The photo is real, but someone (at the newspaper) was pretty sure it depicted a thylacine, and took steps to “enhance” the photo so the animal’s identity would be more “clear.” And the enhancer’s somewhat confused knowledge of a thylacine’s appearance was based mostly upon the Tasmanian Coat of Arms, with the forequarter stripes, etc.

    2) I am mistaken in thinking that no thylacine had forequarter stripes. Perhaps some did, and this fact is recorded both in the Tasmanian Coat of Arms and in this photo.

  107. #107 Franck
    August 24, 2010

    I agree with AD (post 99)
    I’m no expert but the front quarter region does look like very equine!

  108. #108 John Scanlon FCD
    August 24, 2010

    Have a look at the photo Dartian linked in #49 (here), and there you will see distinct dark and light stripes running up the back of the upper arm to shoulder, converging with fainter, broader stripes on the neck. I think the Rilla Martin photo has been (badly) overpainted in this area to emphasise the neck stripes, but that some striping was present in the original shot (overpainting may have extended beyond the upper edge of the neck, creating the anomalously deep appearance).

    Similarly, the odd-looking pale ruff along the rear of the lower jawline and light and dark markings on the cheek and around the eye have probably also been touched up but may well be features in the original photo, as they match the other photo pretty well. The high position of the head and neck, deep chest and low hindquarters are different from most photos of thylacines standing in profile, but suggest a dynamic pose (in brightish sun, motion-blur would not necessarily occur) where the animal has come up a slope (out of a ‘ditch’ beside the road) and is beginning to turn away to its right.

    While it’s quite possible that a hoaxer or the newspaper people had access to decent (or crap) pictures of Thylacinus and attampted to copy or highlight some of its markings, this would be more likely to emphasise the striping on the rump (almost invisible here) rather than fainter neck and face stripes. I was very dubious yesterday, but it seems quite possible today that this was a mainland thylacine. Unfortunately, however, without the original print or negative, the photo as it stands today is no real evidence for anything.

    Not too far from the purported sighting, at Naracoorte in the south-east of South Australia, and also at Wellington Caves NSW, there are Pleistocene fossil thylacines significantly larger than recent examples but usually referred to the same species. Bigger than T. potens though not as ‘robust’ (in the snout).

  109. #109 David Marjanović
    August 25, 2010

    Now it gets interesting…

  110. #110 Longfinmako
    August 25, 2010

    According to some recent posted comments, it could be either a recent relative of T. potens or a larger, mainland form of T. cynocephalus with an apparently retouched head. Or maybe there were even two species of Thylacinid coexisting in mainland Australia until recent times…

  111. #111 Dartian
    August 25, 2010

    Darwinsdog:

    I believe that additional T. potens material has been found but nothing post-cranial. Archer may have published before this more recently discovered material was available.

    The reference you cited is from 1982. I have seen no mention of new T. potens material in any later sources, such as Long et al. (2002) (where Archer is one of the authors).

    I would call a tortoise ‘terrestrial’ but wouldn’t call it ‘cursorial.’

    Cursorial is a subcategory of terrestrial. It’s a somewhat problematic term, because different authors have used it in quite different ways over the years*. There is a growing consensus among morphologists, however, that as far as flesh-eating mammals are concerned, ‘cursorial’ should be restricted to large-bodied, specialised pursuit predators; among extant Carnivora, these would only include Canis, Lycaon, Cuon, Crocuta, and Acinonyx (although according to the strictest definitions of ‘cursorial’, the latter is already a borderline case). These taxa have similar, fairly low, femur-metatarsal ratios (FMT), whereas Thylacinus cynocephalus, according to Jones & Stoddart (1998) differs from them by having a much higher FMT. In fact, of all the flesh-eating extant mammals they examined, the thylacine is most similar to the Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii in its hind limb proportions. This, together with some other factors (such as details of its dentition), led Jones & Stoddart to conclude that the thylacine was not a specialised pursuit predator; its hunting strategy would have been more similar to that of an oversized fox than to that of a wolf. In other words, the thylacine’s degree of convergence with placental Canis is somewhat overstated in textbooks.

    * There is plenty of literature dealing with the concept of mammalian cursoriality; see, for example, Janis & Wilhelm (1993) and Stein & Casinos (1997).

    Of course a snapper can climb a fence.

    But how many people who are unfamiliar with snapping turtles do you think would come to that conclusion after having been shown one indistinct photograph of a partially-obscured snapper? It’s not always easy to say what an animal is and what it isn’t capable of doing, if all you have to go by is to look at a picture of it.

    The photo may be a fraud and in any case is too indistinct to say anything for certain about it.

    I agree with that; that’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to say all along. Dave just said it more concisely than I did.

    It’s easy to criticize mere speculation

    Easy? Perhaps, but it’s also absolutely essential to be critical. If the actual evidence that the speculations are based on is insufficient, or if the arguments made are otherwise flawed, then that needs to be pointed out.

    What do you think the animal may have been?

    My gut feeling, for what it’s worth, is that it’s a hoax and not a real animal at all (though parts of real animals may have been used to create it). But, to repeat, ‘inconclusive’ is the operative word in this case.

    References:

    Janis, C.M. & Wilhelm, P.B. 1993. Were there mammalian pursuit predators in the Tertiary? Dances with wolf avatars. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 1, 103-125.

    Long, J., Archer, M., Flannery, T. & Hand, S. 2002. Prehistoric Mammals of Australia and New Guinea. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.

    Stein, B.R. & Casinos, A. 1997. What is a cursorial mammal? Journal of Zoology, London 242, 185-192.

  112. #112 Dartian
    August 25, 2010

    One more thing.

    I think I’ve pretty much said all I have to say on this particular subject, but I would like to end with this brief summary of my position regarding the ‘Ozenkadnook tiger’:

    I can’t see its face,
    so I’m not a believer.
    Nor its trace;
    there’s doubt in my mind.
    Thylacoleo?
    Or just a retriever?
    I couldn’t ID her
    if I tried.

    (With apologies to The Monkees.)

  113. #113 darwinsdog
    August 25, 2010

    Dartian:

    Thanks for your response. We are in basic agreement about the photograph, it appears.

    The reference you cited is from 1982. I have seen no mention of new T. potens material in any later sources, such as Long et al. (2002) (where Archer is one of the authors).

    This from the Thylacine Museum website. http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/relics/Tertiary_1.htm
    The mandibular fragments are the “additional materials” to which I was referring:

    “Some dentary fragments also exist (University of California, Berkeley, paleontological collections), but these are far less complete than the rostrum. A few additional mandibular fragments and a small section of the premolar region of a maxilla of a second skull were found on a subsequent visit to Alcoota in 1975 (the Ray E. Lemley Expedition to Alcoota). These new specimens (Queensland Museum) however, add little to the concept of the species as known by Woodburne (1967).”

    ‘cursorial’ should be restricted to large-bodied, specialised pursuit predators

    I define ‘cursorial’ as: “Adapted to or specialized for running,” or “Cursorial is a biological term that describes an organism as being adapted specifically to run.” By limiting the definition to pursuit predators you exclude horses and hares. I don’t accept this. Femur-metatarsal ratios comprise a continuum and where anyone decides to impose a cutoff point between ‘cursorial’ & ‘non-cursorial’ is entirely arbitrary. I have used the term in these posts to describe a non-arboreal animal adapted to running as opposed to one better adapted to climbing trees. The animal in the photo, if real, appears cursorially adapted to me. I doubt that it could climb trees any better than Urocyon, if at all, and I have no doubt but what it could run well. This much is clear even though I cannot assess its FMT ratio or even tell if it was plantigrade or digitigrade.

    But how many people who are unfamiliar with snapping turtles do you think would come to that conclusion..

    Well, I have been familiar with snapping turtles as long as I can remember so I would have little doubt about their ability to climb fences even if I hadn’t witnessed them doing so, which I have. But I get your point and it’s a valid one. Based on its dentition alone, who would suspect that Didelphis, for instance, was anything but a strict carnivore? This is an example of your point I have used before to illustrate it. Even if the animal in the Rilla photo could climb trees, based on what can be observed of its anatomy, I don’t think it could climb very well and interpret it as a terrestrial cursorial or ‘quasi-cursorial,’ by more strict definitions, predatory dasyuromorph.

    ..it’s also absolutely essential to be critical. If the actual evidence that the speculations are based on is insufficient, or if the arguments made are otherwise flawed, then that needs to be pointed out.

    I entirely agree. However, this exercise in speculation, sponsored by Darren, is all in fun. As Dave points out, it isn’t science and doesn’t need to be engaged in as rigorously as it would need to be for publication. The photograph is indistinct and it may be fraudulent. All I’ve been doing is speculating, based on what I can see in the photo and what’s known about the tertiary paleozoology of Australia and Tasmania, about what the animal may be if it is real. IF it is real, I think that it is an unknown thylacinid of larger & more robust body build than T. cyanocephalus.

  114. #114 Jerzy
    August 25, 2010

    The thing also seems to have like enormous lump of muscles on back of the supposed neck, arching over past the shoulders. In contrast, sides and lower part of the neck are weak. I checked dogs and thylacines and lions, but none of them have such freakishly asymmetrical neck musculature.

    Also, middle of the back shows something like a small bump.

    One more point that it is not a real animal: some natural object or model made by somebody with superficial understanding of animal anatomy.

  115. #115 farandfew
    August 25, 2010

    I think posting this picture on this blog is probably the best thing anyone could have done with it – much kudos Darren! The fact that everyone sees different things just shows that it really is impossible to draw a firm conclusion. I haven’t seen this photo before but I bet it appears in a number of books by people with more and less respectable zoological credentials who claim that it’s obvious what certain features represent – features which all the commenters here have quite different views about.
    On the other hand, the Freeman paper on the ‘faked’ Thylacine photos (referenced by Darren) is also really unconvincing to me at least. A peer reviewed journal is able to carry an article saying that these pictures were *obviously* faked but, if those had been posted here, I wonder whether the author would have been able to convince us of that. In fact her article gives me the opposite impression from what she intends: that it’s very easy to be convinced by her authoritative-sounding text and forget to check what you yourself can see in the picture.

  116. #116 farandfew
    August 25, 2010

    And if anyone is reading this who is lucky enough to live somewhere with drive-through megafauna reserves and who can get hold of a Brownie camera; maybe you’d like to spend a weekend getting dodgy shots of real animals from the roadside and seeing whether it’s also possible to argue convincingly that they are all faked.

  117. #117 Dartian
    August 26, 2010

    Seems that I can’t leave this thread just quite yet. Oh well.

    Jeff:

    the painting does show that thylacoleo was a striped animal

    But David is right; the stripe pattern of the cave painting and that of Rilla Martin’s creature do not match at all. They are really no more similar than the plumage pattern of a penguin is similar to that of a magpie (even though both those birds are black-and-white).

    Darwinsdog:

    The mandibular fragments are the “additional materials” to which I was referring

    Thanks for that information, I didn’t know about those findings. But they’re still not postcranial elements, however.

    By limiting the definition to pursuit predators you exclude horses and hares.

    Er, that’s a misreading of what I wrote. I didn’t say that (some) ungulates and (some) other herbivorous mammals can’t be called cursorial too, I just left them out of this discussion. I was only referring to flesh-eating mammals.

    Femur-metatarsal ratios comprise a continuum and where anyone decides to impose a cutoff point between ‘cursorial’ & ‘non-cursorial’ is entirely arbitrary.

    True, where you eventually decide draw the line is, inevitably, to a greater or lesser extent arbitrary. But whatever criteria you end up using (whether those criteria are morphology- or performance-based, or both), you need to apply them consistently. Thus, if you want to consider Thylacinus cynocephalus ‘cursorial’ you will also have to consider, for example, foxes, most cats, and the Tasmanian devil ‘cursorial’. And that, surely, would stretch the concept of cursoriality to the extent of no longer being very informative.

    this exercise in speculation, sponsored by Darren, is all in fun. As Dave points out, it isn’t science and doesn’t need to be engaged in as rigorously as it would need to be for publication.

    Hmm. That’s true in principle, but on the other hand… This is a science blog, written by a scientist (Darren). Many of the regular commenters here are either scientists themselves or, at the very least, scientifically-minded people. Thus, I think it’s only natural that we should also discuss these kinds of things in as scientific a manner as possible. Even if the discussions end up being sceptic-heavy.

    Farandfew:

    the Freeman paper on the ‘faked’ Thylacine photos (referenced by Darren) is also really unconvincing to me at least

    Burrell’s photos are surely faked in the sense that they are staged; I don’t think anybody can seriously dispute that anymore.

    As for whether the thylacine(s)* in Burrell’s photos is/are living or stuffed is up for debate. I am myself of two minds regarding that issue. Some of the photos look ‘alive’ to me, others don’t. There are definitely some weird details. (I personally find most suspicious the things that I don’t see in those pictures. For example, the changes in limb posture seem awfully slight; one would expect a living, moving, actively foraging predator to be showing more variation in its poses. And, as Freeman notes, the chicken looks surprisingly intact throughout the sequence – no loose white feathers fluttering about anywhere.) But I don’t claim to be able to tell for certain.

    * A possibility not really considered by Freeman is that Burrell could have used two (or more) stuffed thylacines, rather than just one.

    her article gives me the opposite impression from what she intends: that it’s very easy to be convinced by her authoritative-sounding text and forget to check what you yourself can see in the picture

    That’s ironic, because Freeman argues the exact opposite: that pictures, and particularly photographs, are highly seductive, and that people (scientists included) are often oblivious to the possibility that the pictures they see might be heavily manipulated.

  118. #118 David Marjanović
    August 26, 2010

    Based on its dentition alone, who would suspect that Didelphis, for instance, was anything but a strict carnivore?

    Huh? Its molars aren’t carnassials.

    T. cyanocephalus

    T. cynocephalus — dog-headed, not blue-green-headed.

  119. #119 farandfew
    August 26, 2010

    That’s ironic, because Freeman argues the exact opposite: that pictures, and particularly photographs, are highly seductive, and that people (scientists included) are often oblivious to the possibility that the pictures they see might be heavily manipulated.

    Yes, that was kind of what I meant. Really I think that, if you’re going to talk about photo manipulation in a biological journal it would be helpful if you (say) put a big arrow on the photo saying ‘manipulation here’ and explained exactly why it’s clear that it was manipulated which is something the average biologist probably isn’t able to judge.
    Of course I’m not denying it was staged, but most published wildlife photos are staged to some degree. And I think it’s being staged would also explain the various ‘chicken anomalies’ discussed here and in the paper.

  120. #120 darwinsdog
    August 26, 2010
    Femur-metatarsal ratios comprise a continuum and where anyone decides to impose a cutoff point between ‘cursorial’ & ‘non-cursorial’ is entirely arbitrary.

    True, where you eventually decide draw the line is, inevitably, to a greater or lesser extent arbitrary. But whatever criteria you end up using (whether those criteria are morphology- or performance-based, or both), you need to apply them consistently. Thus, if you want to consider Thylacinus cynocephalus ‘cursorial’ you will also have to consider, for example, foxes, most cats, and the Tasmanian devil ‘cursorial’. And that, surely, would stretch the concept of cursoriality to the extent of no longer being very informative.

    Where I live, both gray foxes and raccoons get after my poultry. Both can run and both can climb trees. A perch about eight feet off the ground in a large, sloping cottonwood overlooking the chicken coop is where the gray fox hangs out, waiting for its chance to nab a hen. Higher up in the same tree or in one nearby may be the raccoon. The gray fox will never be observed high in the canopy where a raccoon may be observed. On the continuum of cursoriality < -----> scansoriality, the gray fox, which can run well but climbs trees poorly, would be placed to the left, toward the cursoriality pole, while the raccoon, which is a clumbsy runner but adept tree climber, would be placed further to the right toward the scansoriality pole. For the purpose of this discussion, I have used these terms to contrast the locomotory mode of thylacinids with that of thylacoleonids. Just as the gray fox is relatively cursorial compared with a raccoon, so does the animal in the Rilla photo appear relatively cursorial compared with the more scansorial Thylacoleo. This is why I have interpreted the animal, if real, as a thylacinid rather than a thylacoleonid. In relative terms, I have no problem regarding a fox (moreso Vulpes than Urocyon) as being cursorial.

    Based on its dentition alone, who would suspect that Didelphis, for instance, was anything but a strict carnivore?

    Huh? Its molars aren’t carnassials.

    Huh? Didelphis doesn’t even have the same dental formula as a placental carnivoran. The secodont cheek teeth of an opossum are well adapted to shearing flesh. When the convergent premolars of Thylacoleo are described as being “carnassials” this is a loose usage of the term.

  121. #121 Peggy Richter
    August 26, 2010

    A comparison to foxes with chicken kills: http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/LBUN-5K52J2?open
    Or even better, this amateur film of a semi tame fox http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D2L1jvhQgk
    Note the rather stiff and abnormal tail—the result of an injury, perhaps?
    Makes me wonder if this 1964 photo was of an odd colored fox that had coloration enhanced in the newspaper. At 7:40 into the film, the dark smudges on it’s front shoulder could even be thought to be stripes.
    Peggy Richter

  122. #122 elroyjetsn
    August 26, 2010

    This is a fantastic photograph!

    can’t be photoshop- foliage…
    can’t be taxidermy- fleshing is too natural…
    can’t be a thylacine- too robust and wrong markings
    definitely a marcupial, head is more compressed and lip shows evidence of larger canines.

    My guess: if ever there was a photograph of a living marsupial lion, this is it! Thanks for posting this!

    Wayne

  123. #123 Nicholas
    August 27, 2010

    This photo, like countless others supposedly shows some type of mammal, Thylacine or otherwise, and as with most, its out of focus. It (the clarity) is disappointing, like many others, and of course, there’s the only time for one pic syndrome. I just went to a site that shows the Box Brownie camera, and the photos it takes. They were clear and of good quality for the era. Its not that one can’t positivly identify the animal as a new spieces or being a living relic, its the quality of the photo that again prevents this. Fake or not, this is just unfortunatly another “You, put it together!” pic.

  124. #124 David Marjanović
    August 27, 2010

    definitely a marcupial, head is more compressed and lip shows evidence of larger canines.

    My guess: if ever there was a photograph of a living marsupial lion, this is it! Thanks for posting this!

    Marsupial lions haven’t got any canines. Just incisors and premolars.

  125. #125 MIKE SHERIDAN
    August 27, 2010

    It looks like its wedged in the “y” of a tree to hold it up. Would an animal drag its genitals over a bush like that? Did they ever make large stuffed toys like that in Australia?

  126. #126 doug l
    August 28, 2010

    T’would make an excellent design for a carousel animal. Quite handsome.

  127. #127 david
    August 29, 2010

    The shape of the head and front end of whatever is in that picture is remarkably similar to that of my Australian Cattle Dog. Thick muscular chest and front legs. Thick neck with the short head sitting of top of it. The shape of the muzzle and the low forehead really look similar. I’m leaning dog.

  128. #128 Demetrios Vital
    August 31, 2010

    A lot of time has been spent discussing the forequarters of the figure in the photo, the perceived depth of the ribcage, and muscularity of the torso. I suggest that the lower margin of the shoulder area is artificially created by the overlap of what is actually a rock-like shape in front of the figure. Rather than being a dark lower margin of the torso and light ground with twigs behind it, that lower margin is actually the top margin of what I’ll call a rock, which is colored light gray and has three horizontal striations. You see, the log on the ground is definitely between the viewer and the forelimbs. The upper margin of that log is penetrated and therefore overlapped by the nearly polygonal rock, implying that the rock is actually in front of the log. If I’m correct, almost the entire shape of the front half of the figure cannot be discerned!

    The actual outline of the figure’s underbelly might be visible as a darkly shaded line through the bush bisecting the figure. That outline indicates that the figure’s belly is lower to the ground. If I can muster the free time, I’ll try to illustrate what I’m referring to.

    There are a couple other points to bring up, as well: the rear half of the figure strikes my mind as a tree kangaroo, and the mottled/striped coat wouldn’t be inconsistent. Especially if the outline of the animal is false, a tree kangaroo hypothesis might be viable. Can anyone address that? Is that geographically feasible?

    Artistically, the photo cuts quite a picture: the right half looks like a devastated forest, with twigs and limbs everywhere. The values in the right half contrast much more significantly than the left, implying something about the photo, its preservation, or its creation.

    Also, whether or not this was faked, I have little doubt that a reasonably-painted two-dimensional cutout could easily appear that real and that three-dimensional.

    BTW, Stevo Darkly’s ideas in note 106 are excellent. Finding the potential artistic precedent (whether or not actual thylacines had shoulder stripes) is really good detective work.

  129. #129 Stevo Darkly
    August 31, 2010

    Demetrios — thank you very much! Although, really, it was mostly by chance that I stumbled across an image of the Tasmanian Coat of Arms.

    Still, it is odd and I think noteworthy (in the context of this discussion) that the Tasmanian Coat of Arms depicts thylacines as having prominent shoulder stripes. I’d really like to know the story behind that.

    (John Scanlon in #108 posted a link to a photo of a thylacine that might be argued to show forequarter stripes, but to me they look like artifacts of the interplay of light and shadow than actual pigment in the fur.)

  130. #130 John Scanlon FCD
    August 31, 2010

    There are no tree kangaroos in southern Australia, or anywhere in the kind of sclerophyll woodland habitat the picture seems to show. However, the back half can be interpreted as a Macropus or similar terrestrial roo – but ONLY IF the femur is approximately horizontal and the lower leg hidden by the bunch of twigs up the middle of the picture, so that the features shown in Darren’s sketch as hindlimb and ‘support’ are either not parts of the animal, or possibly the dangly boy-bits. This position for the leg seems more likely to me even if it were a real thylacine.
    But I’d rather be discussing a well-faked photo than one that’s just been messed with and degraded like this.

  131. #131 Dartian
    September 1, 2010

    Demetrios:

    a tree kangaroo hypothesis might be viable. Can anyone address that? Is that geographically feasible?

    As John Scanlon said, there are no tree kangaroos anywhere near the southern parts of Australia nowadays. But (even at the risk of adding fuel to cryptozoological speculation), I’d like to point out that there were tree kangaroos there in the relatively recent geological past; both Dendrolagus and the extinct, larger-bodied taxon Bohra have been recorded from Pliocene and Pleistocene deposits in the southern states of continental Australia (see Prideaux & Warburton (2008), and references therein). But, of course, one needs to remember that the climate and the vegetation have changed quite a bit during the last hew million years; some of the fossil tree kangaroos have been found from sites that today are virtually treeless desert.

    (I hasten to add that I personally don’t see anything tree kangaroo-ish in the Rilla Martin picture.)

    Reference:

    Prideaux, G.J. & Warburton, N.M. 2008. A new Pleistocene tree-kangaroo (Diprotodontia: Macropodidae) from the Nullarbor Plain of south-central Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28, 463–478.

  132. #132 Dartian
    September 1, 2010

    D’oh!

    hew

    That should be ‘few’.

  133. #133 Darren Naish
    September 1, 2010

    One other additional point of interest regarding tree-kangaroos: some people have suggested that various of the ‘Queensland tiger’ sightings from Australia may actually have been brief glimpses of tree-kangaroos (Martin 2005, Williams & Lang 2010). Nice idea, but… (1) ‘tiger’ witnesses tend not to describe just the back end and tail of the animal: they often claim to see the forequarters and head. (2) Can it really work as an explanation for Australia, given that neither of the tree-kangaroos there have stripes? Goodfellow’s tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus goodfellowi (aka Ornate tree-kangaroo) has faint tail stripes (but lives on New Guinea), but that seems to be about it.

    I wrote an article about the ‘Queensland tiger’ once, and about how the sightings have apparently tailed off in recent decades (my conclusion was that it probably never existed in the first place). If I can find it, I’ll re-vamp it for Tet Zoo some time.

    Refs – -

    Martin, R. 2005. Tree-kangaroos of Australia and New-Guinea. CSIRO Publishing (Collingwood, Victoria).

    Williams, M. & Lang, R. 2010. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation (Hazelbrook, Australia).

  134. #134 darwinsdog
    September 1, 2010

    ..IF the femur is approximately horizontal and the lower leg hidden by the bunch of twigs up the middle of the picture, so that the features shown in Darren’s sketch as hindlimb and ‘support’ are.. not parts of the animal.. This position for the leg seems more likely to me even if it were a real thylacine.

    This description is exactly how I interpret the left hind leg. Darren’s sketch makes it look more like the rostrum of Polydon the paddlefish than like the hind leg of a thylacinid or any other terrestrial quadruped. But, then, maybe that’s it! A chimera. Head of an okapi, neck & torso of a striped horse, rump & tail of a kangaroo, and hindleg the rostrum of a paddlefish. There now, we’ve finally figured it out. :)

  135. #135 Demetrios Vital
    September 1, 2010

    John Scanlon wrote: “There are no tree kangaroos in southern Australia, … so that the features shown in Darren’s sketch as hindlimb and ‘support’ are either not parts of the animal, or possibly the dangly boy-bits. … But I’d rather be discussing a well-faked photo than one that’s just been messed with and degraded like this.”

    I guess that’s why no one had suggested tree kangaroo :-$ And for the life of me I thought I saw a photo of a tree kangaroo with shoulder stripes, but I couldn’t find it again. Maybe it was also a hoax! I see what you mean about the necessary femur position if the animal were a kangaroo. The “support,” to me, cannot be differentiated from the detritus in the foreground – and does not look like a leg to me – which of course brings us to the point about dealing with insufficient evidence in the form of a degraded photo.

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