for National Geographic News
They are one of Australia's most mythical creatures, a striped mammal the size of a dog known as the thylacine. The last captive example died in 1936, but the Tasmanian tiger has prowled the national consciousness ever since.
So much so that an Australian magazine recently offered a million-dollar (U.S.) reward for anyone who could prove that creature still exists.
Some Australians believe the thylacine lives, and one might be forgiven for imagining that the tiger is simply hiding out in the ancient forests of Tasmania, where rumors about the enigmatic creature swirl like smoke in its natural habitat.
Web sites are devoted to the search for the tiger. And no less an institution than the Australian Museum made international headlines a few years ago when it announced plans to try to clone a Tasmanian tiger using DNA from preserved tissue.
But nothing has set believers in the tiger buzzing like a recent announcement from The Bulletin. The Australian magazine announced it would offer a 1.25-million-dollar (Australian) reward for the capture of a live and uninjured animal.
"Like many others living in a world where mystery is an increasingly rare thing, we wanted to believe," the magazine's editor in chief, Garry Linnell, said. "Perhaps deep in the pristine Tasmanian wilderness, something magical was waiting."
The magazine provided a three-month window for someone to capture what no team of scientists, adventurers, or dreamers had been able to do for 70 years.
While the Bulletin attracted much publicity for its bold plan, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Environment, and Water was less than impressed.
Department wildlife officer Nick Mooney participated in one of the last official searches for the tiger in 1982. He said he was initially concerned about the new bounty until he realized the "bar was set so high no one who read the conditions would even attempt it."
"All it did was raise the issue, which was positive. But it also trivialized it a bit, which was negative," Mooney said.
"There's always six, eight, ten sightings a year, depending on the year, and they're highly variable in quality, and there's always some tantalizing ones," he said. "Many are just illusion or misidentification. There are ones that are extremely real and credible, but there's just no evidence [that the thylacine still exists]."
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