Print View |
The story of Benjamin
The story of the last Tasmanian tiger is well documented in print (Paddle 2000) and at the online Thylacine Museum.
In a nutshell, one Frank Darby seems to have given the last thylacine the name Benjamin when he claimed in 1968 - more than thirty years after its death - that he worked at the zoo in the early 1930s.
Alison Read, daughter of the zoo's curator from 1922 to 1936 subsequently categorically denied that any Mr Darby ever worked at the zoo, nor that the last thylacine had any name.
Naturally, all film footage and photographs of the animal shown here have been inspected, yet no male genitalia are apparent. However, male Tasmanian tigers had a scrotal pouch into which the scrotal sac was pulled when the animal was stressed. The presence of Mr Fleay in the animal's enclosure could well have illicited this response, so there is yet the small possibility that Benjamin was in fact male.
Was Benjamin a boy?
There is an interesting anecdote from a recently published (2007) biography of David Fleay. The classic photograph shown above, was taken by Fleay who also produced film footage of the same animal. Shortly after a threat-yawn as shown (characteristic of carnivorous marsupials), he was bitten on the buttock by the animal.
All this is well known, but what was noted in the biography was a diary entry by Fleay shortly after this incident, where he notes the thylacine was a male.
But is this Benjamin?
However - one question still remains open to debate: Was Fleay's 1933 thylacine in fact Benjamin, the animal which saw the passing of the species in 1936?
If the animal shown in the photograph above is not Benjamin, then the zoo would have had to purchase another thylacine prior to September 1936 and unfortunately, it seems the zoo records for this period no longer exist.
Rosemary Fleay-Thomson's biography of her father, Dr David Fleay is titled "Animals First: The Story of Pioneer Australian Conservationist and Zoologist Dr David Fleay". It was published in 2007 by Andrew Isles Natural History Books (book number 27303, 338 pages, softcover quarto with black and white photographs). Cost is typically A$50.
Although I have not seen a copy first hand I have had a number of colleagues confirm to me that David Fleay did note the animal which bit him was a male. Fleay was a naturalist with many notable acheivements including the first captive breeding of the platypus (a feat not replicated for decades) so it is almost certain he would have correctly sexed the animal.
If the animal in Fleay's photographs and film footage is in fact the same animal which became the last captive thylacine, then Benjamin was a boy.
If it is not the same animal, then the zoo must have obtained another one and it seems unlikely we'll ever obtain a firm confirmation of this.