Archivists in Australia working on the digital restoration of an incomplete travelogue from 1935 discovered that it contains the last known footage of a Tasmanian tiger.
The newly restored footage, prepared by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA), shows a male Tasmanian tiger pacing around in his cage. The scene was captured at some point in late March 1935, just 18 months before this thylacine—the last captive Tasmanian tiger—passed away, according to an NFSA press release. The previous last-confirmed footage dates to December 1933.
Videos of Tasmanian tigers are super rare, amounting to less than 3 minutes worth of content in total. The new footage adds 21 precious seconds to this tally.
Interestingly, the old-timey narration makes mention of the species’ rarity.
“The Tasmanian tiger, easily distinguished by his striped, unjointed tail, is also a dangerous opponent,” declares the narrator. “Though like the devil, he is now very rare, being forced out of its natural habitat by the march of civilization. This is the only one in captivity in the world.”
At the right of the frame, a pair of zookeepers can be seen rattling the thylacine’s cage to elicit a response. The marsupial predator, named Benjamin after his death, is quite striking, resembling a cross between a tiger and a dog.
The rediscovered footage was found within a forgotten travelogue called Tasmania the Wonderland, which was presumably shot by Sidney Cook (1873-1937), a prolific Australian filmmaker and exhibitor. With the assistance of the Tasmanian government, Cook embarked on project to create a “talkie travelogue,” which he hoped to screen in theaters across Australia and boost tourism to Tasmania.
The restored 35 mm nitrate film, digitized to 4K, contains just 9 minutes of footage (the total running length of the original is not known) and has no end credits.
Filming for the project began on January 17, 1935 and included trips across much of the island. Unfortunately, only scenes shot in and around the city of Hobart survived, including shots of double-decker streetcars, Sandy Bay Beach, Lady Franklin Museum, and the Beaumaris zoo, which held the Tasmanian tiger along with lions, polar bears, and various animals native to Australia. Tasmania the Wonderland was completed and screened at the Royal National Exhibition in Brisbane in September 1935, according to the NFSA.
The newly released footage is wonderful, but we still don’t have video of Tasmanian tigers in the wild, color photographs, or recordings of their vocalizations. This is not outside the realm of possibility, as yet-to-be rediscovered films might include these elusive elements. In addition to Australia, Tasmanian tigers were kept at zoos in the United States, Germany, Belgium, and Britain.