Micrographic study of thylacine hair (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

DOI: 10.18258/9209
Raised of $1,795 Goal
Funded on 5/06/17
Successfully Funded
  • $1,808
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 5/06/17

Project Results

As a result of the puchase of the microscope, adapter and other equipment we now have a library of 100+ high resolution colour micrographs of all 3 thylacine hair types. Features in common across different fibres are described and illustrated. As a bonus, the CSIRO has generously supported the project and produced scanning electron and confocal laser scanning (3d optical) micrographs. We now have unprecedented detail on how thylacine hair appears under magnification. You can view all results and images on my website Where Light Meets Dark.

About This Project

Existing papers describing the hair structure of the thylacine (also known as Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus) do so in passing, as part of analyses of Tasmanian mammals in general. These papers date to 1950 (with hand drawn illustrations) and 1985 (with limited micrographs/photographs).

This project aims to produce a rich set of high-res micrographs documenting the structure and diagnostic characteristics of thylacine hair, invaluable for identifying the presence of the species.

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What is the context of this research?

The thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, is presumed extinct with the last known captive specimen dying in 1936. Since then hundreds of sighting reports have been submitted from Tasmania, mainland Australia and Irian Jaya. Expeditions have been conducted in search of the species by many researchers over decades. In some cases, (notably David Fleay, 1945-6) hair samples have been collected.

To date 2 key papers describe thylacine hair as part of broader research on Tasmanian mammals, (1950, 1985). They include illustrations and limited photographs.

Two key digital resources have been developed documenting the species - the International Thylacine Specimen Database and the online Thylacine Museum. This project will add comprehensive modern-day high quality micrographs to our body of knowledge.

What is the significance of this project?

The thylacine has likely had more sighting reports than any other species listed as extinct, numbering into the thousands. Expeditions in search of the species have been carried out from the 1930s to the present day. Definitive high resolution imagery to complement the published papers will provide an invaluable tool to those attempting to identify prospective thylacine hair samples.

Regardless of conservation status, high resolution imagery of thylacine hair will be a valuable addition to other comprehensive research efforts on the species. With specimen materials being increasingly valuable due to extinction status, and frail due to passage of time, high resolution imagery will preserve and make accessible a level of detail not seen before in hair analyses for the species.

What are the goals of the project?

The key goal of this project is to deliver high resolution digital imagery of thylacine hair using light microscopy to produce photomicrographs.

The imagery will be sufficient for diagnostic analysis per earlier published text and illustrative descriptions. All aspects of hair morphology will be considered during the imaging process.

The project will begin immediately on successfully securing funding. Equipment will be ordered and configured and slide mounts will be prepared. Thylacine specimen hair has already been obtained and an existing high resolution full-frame camera will be used (already purchased, not part of this funding appeal).


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These costs are critical to the success of this project. The microscope is listed here at a 57% discounted price! (due to supplier overstock - unknown how long this offer will last). The camera mount adapter is high quality glass commensurate with producing top quality images to professional standard. Together, and combined with my existing 36 megapixel Nikon DSLR full-frame camera (body only, purchased at A$2,400) these items will deliver the highest quality images available for this species - well in advance of imaging capabilities at the time of the most recent published photomicrographs (32 years ago, in 1985).

The sundry items are required for slide presentation and, as noted, I am contributing the DSLR full-frame camera body for capturing high quality images. Beyond the thylacine project I intend to revisit other marsupial carnivores but the deliverable for this project is a world-first in digital imaging of thylacine hair.

Endorsed by

The thylacine was the largest marsupial carnivore to exist in modern times; the last known captive specimen died in 1936. Logic dictates that a secretive nocturnal animal, concealed in vast tracts of bushland, would persist beyond the last known capture on the fringe of its habitat. Chris's research will identify hair samples from the field and compare them with known species; including the thylacine. This is the first time that such a detailed comparative study has been proposed, and could potentially prove that the thylacine is still extant.

Project Timeline

Apr 06, 2017

Experiment project listing commences

Apr 06, 2017

Project Launched

May 06, 2017

Experiment fund raising ends

May 13, 2017

Funds cleared and equipment ordered

Jun 03, 2017

Equipment arrived and set up

Meet the Team

Chris Rehberg
Chris Rehberg
Thylacine Researcher

Chris Rehberg

The Tasmanian Tiger captivated my attention in 2001 when an exhibition came to Sydney from Tasmania, but I recall even in my childhood this animal fascinated me.

For the past 14 years I have curated the website Where Light Meets Dark - Examining the evidence for rare fauna and been involved in numerous field trips into the Tasmanian wilderness utilising thorough research of historical accounts to guide my strategy. I have met and worked with an amazing diversity of people along the way, deployed dozens of cameras, jumped Tiger Snakes, forded rivers, written book chapters and featured in a documentary.

In 1995 I began a tertiary course in Environmental Science, and worked on scholarship with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO, Environment Division) before diverting my career into the IT space.

In addition to the above I launched Australia's first dedicated camera-trap import/retail business which I owned and managed for 9 years.

Underpinning the whole lot is an absolute love and passion for Australia's wildlife and wilderness which has been there for as long as I can remember. I have been a wildlife/nature photographer for over 25 years and regularly volunteer with wildlife and environmental organisations.

In a nutshell, I'm passionate about Australia's wildlife, wilderness areas and photography and it would be my absolute pleasure to contribute an extensive bioacoustic aural survey of Tasmania's wilderness to the public domain - and, hopefully, make inroads into that mystery wildlife call which might yet be that Tasmanian tiger holding on there.

Additional Information

Sample micrographs for mammalian hair (including, for example, the extinct woolly mammoth) can be found here.

Photo credit: Sylvia Rehberg / Where Light Meets Dark

Project Backers

  • 28Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $1,808Total Donations
  • $64.57Average Donation
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