‘Tassie tiger’ sighting revives Aussie mystery

Pierra WillixBusselton Dunsborough Times
Busselton Historical Society president Brian Slee is certain he spotted a thylacine last week.
Camera IconBusselton Historical Society president Brian Slee is certain he spotted a thylacine last week.

Busselton Historical Society president Brian Slee was driving into town last week when an animal dashing out of the bush reignited an old theory close to home and cemented previously-held beliefs.

“We were driving along Queen Elizabeth Avenue heading into town about 8.30pm on Christmas Day when something trotted out in front of the car,” Mr Slee said.

“It turned and looked at us and I saw its face and at first I was in doubt and thought ‘what the heck is this?’

“It was about 15 feet in front of the car and was about three-quarters grown and about the size of a cattle dog. I was looking at its tail which was sticking straight out like a kangaroo tail.”

Mr Slee said he had no doubt that what he saw was a thylacine, better known as a Tasmanian tiger.

“It was so plain, it was in front of me,” he said.

The Tasmanian tiger was believed to have become extinct in the 20th century, when the last known one died at Hobart Zoo in 1936.

However there have been a number of unconfirmed sightings in the South West over the years, with tales of the famous Nannup tiger still circulating.

The only known existence of thylacines in the region comes from bones, estimated to be thousands of years old, in the Mammoth and Ngilgi caves.

Mr Slee’s brother, Sid, spent years researching the animal and wrote a book about possible sightings in the region.

“My brother had been sighting these things for over 50 years but this was the first time I had seen one alive,” Mr Slee said.

“All these years I have heard so much about it.”

However, this was not Mr Slee’s first encounter with the animal. He had previously caught a glimpse of one as a child.

“When we were kids, in 1945, we caught one in a kangaroo snare on our farm just outside Busselton,” he said. “We went around to one of our snares one day and found one dead. It was just some strange animal from the bush to us, so we just left it there.”

After hearing many stories of the animal, Mr Slee had set up a camera in his car should the sighting ever occur.

“However, on that day my camera wasn’t working and the card was full so, of course, you see it when you least expect it,” he said.

“It was dark in colour but I couldn’t see any stripes, which was unusual because the one in 1945 had stripes. As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was. I was amazed and couldn’t believe it for a while. People joke about it all the time but it is no joke, it was there.”

Nannup’s Jim Green has seen what has been labelled the “Nannup tiger” a number of times and was involved in a large-scale search for the animal more than 40 years ago.

Speaking to the Countryman in 2009, Mr Green claimed to have seen the tiger about five times since the 1970s.

Mr Green said sightings of thylacines had always been met with scepticism, and even purported photos of the animal that had popped up in the past were often dismissed as being doctored or fake.

In the 1970s Mr Green said members of the local car club started recording sightings and named it the Nannup tiger.

That even led to a full-fledged tiger hunt in 1971, but the mass search for the animal was to no avail.

A Department of Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman said the department received reports of thylacine sightings from time to time, usually between east of Busselton and Nannup.

“There has never been a confirmed sighting, and the most recent evidence of a thylacine having existed in the area is a fossil in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park dating back about 12,000 years,” she said.

“If people think they have seen one, they should take a photo.”

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