The thylacine’s ‘yip yip’

A pair of thylacines, male and female, in an American zoo, 1902

Male and female thylacines at an American zoo in Washington, around 1902-1906

This writer recently answered a post on Quora about the supposedly extinct thylacine (Tasmania tiger), and it got my wife and I thinking again about an event that happened at our farm.

I live in the upper Huon Valley with my family. We moved to the farm after 20+ years living in northern mainland Australia.

The farm skirts forest and pasture in a secluded area, which more or less backs onto the southwest wilderness.

The farm had been unoccupied for some time before we arrived.

The garden and paddocks were a bit overgrown, and I almost burned through a ride-on mower belt trying to cut the grass around the house. I had a paddock slashed by a contractor.

On a cold night we heard a loud “yip yip” near the house.

We were newbie Tasmanians and new to rural living. We thought the sound was unusual. It didn’t sound like a dog. If it was a bird it was a weird one.

I did not go out to the paddock for a look around because I didn’t think the noise was hugely significant, it was just an animal I had not heard before.

My wife was with me and she heard it too. We heard the “yip yip” again a few seconds later, up on the hill, either two animals communicating, or one that was moving fast.

When I read later in Col Bailey’s book that the thylacine makes a “yip yip” sound I was stunned.

I’ve since listened to recordings of owls and sugar gliders and they sounded nothing like it.

Even weirder, we have not heard a yip yip since.

Unfortunately, the so-called “Fox Task Force” may have baited our area around this time, as we were contacted about it by letter not long after we moved onto the farm.

Whether they went ahead with baiting nearby I do not know, but I do know baiting continued in the state until 2013, at a cost of millions of dollars.

We had loads of quolls, there were six or so – both the dark and light eastern variety – around the dog bowl the first night we put dog food out.

The quolls soon disappeared from around the house, presumably because we got two dogs, although we still see quolls around the farm.

We have small caves in a gully that I thought were probably the homes of wombats, but I did wonder if they might have been used by other animals.

We rarely get devils where we are, in eight years we have had only two at the house and seen half a dozen on the road, possibly sometimes the same devil.

(EDIT 2022 – now seeing a lot more devils).

I have wondered if the local demise of devils from facial cancer may have made life easier for tigers, if they still exist.

Looking at the facts, you’d think tigers died out long ago. The land they reportedly liked in the north of the state is well occupied by farms. The last known live animal died in the 1930s.

Tasmanian farmers spotlight-hunt for wallabies at night. They would surely see tigers if they were there.

Much of the forested country near where we live, through to Lake Gordon and Pedder, is wild and rarely visited by people on foot, but it is not considered the thylacine’s preferred habitat.

However, our land more or less adjoins the remote Weld country where Col Bailey reckons the last tigers were.

I half-mentioned this account to a local but their eyes glazed over like I was full of it, so I shut up about it.

But the story is worth telling simply because it is true. It is odd that we heard this sound only on one occasion, when we first moved in, and never again.

We have dozens of wallabies on our property at times, pademelons and big greys, we have possums, and wombats. But unless you go out at night you would hardly know they are there, aside from all the poo.

These nocturnal animals just don’t get around in the daylight, although plenty are run over by cars at night.

Could one or two thylacines from the Weld have made their way onto our property?

Did fox baiting kill them?

I’ll never know, but I do know we heard genuine “yip yips” and we have not heard anything resembling that sound since.

If anyone knows of a Tasmanian animal that goes yip yip at night I’d like to know, to set my mind at ease, as I am still kicking myself for not going out and checking the paddocks that night.

Meanwhile, here are the most recent thylacine “reports”.

The Tassie tiger is not the first Tasmanian animal to go extinct after the arrival of white man. King Island and Tasmania had its own species of emu, and the Macquarie Island rail and Macquarie Island parakeet are also gone.

The famous Tassie devil is under threat, apparently with signs of recovery.

Meanwhile, here is a native Tasmanian that is not yet extinct (yes, that sounded a bit cynical).

EDIT: Read a recent newspaper report (paywalled) about a Tasmanian Government thylacine report here.

EDIT: The closest sound I have found to what we heard is the fox “chirp”. While the tone is similar, what we heard was in twos, whereas fox chirps seem to be spaced out at regular intervals. The yip-yip we heard near the house was loud and hyena-like. Interestingly, early Tasmanian settlers called thylacines “hyenas”.

EDIT: It was a major disturbance in the chicken coop, which is near our bedroom, which made us go outside. It had happened before on a smaller scale and we always assumed the abundant quolls were the problem, as we sometimes saw them run off. They would run off when we went out in the dark and made a noise, but in this case the fleeing animal was a “yipper”.

On another evening around the same time we heard one of our large Sussex chickens struggle as something took it up the hill at great speed. I was standing near the chook pen when the animal was in there and it sounded big enough in its movements to be a bit intimidating in the darkness, unfortunately the pen is covered in shadecloth so I didn’t see the animal when I shone the torch.

Lastly, I have run wildlife video and audio recorders in the years since. The yip-yipping animals are long gone, from here at least. There’s also new houses, more traffic, more lights at night, more dogs, and a lot more road noise.

EDIT: You may think from reading this that we were foolish not to immediately realise the animal was a thylacine, but we were relatively new on the farm and did not then know what sounds Tasmanian animals make. Only after some research did I realise the only possible answer was thylacine. Of course we were suspicious, especially my wife. Unfortunately I had read a study before moving to Tasmania that boldly stated the chance of thylacines still existing was “a trillion to one”. So it wasn’t possible in my mind that a thylacine could be on our farm.

Having further researched the animal’s habits through historic accounts, the lack of evidence of their continued existence can be easily explained.

The thylacine’s continued tenuous existence is probably known in some circles. Keep in mind just how commercially and politically inconvenient this animal is if proven to be still here.

Lastly, online groups posting doubtful stories and blurry pictures of animals that are not thylacines have changed the animal’s status to something along the lines of a bunyip or yowie, so some witnesses would be reluctant to come forward to be labelled another “loony yowie believer”.

Leave a comment