TASMANIAN tigers have been sighted in the wilds of Irian Jaya, according to local press reports, and are blamed by villagers for a spate of attacks on domestic livestock.

According to reports in recent weeks, there have been a number of sightings of wild animals resembling the thylacine species in the rugged highlands of the Jayawijaya region of Irian Jaya.

Jayawijaya regency local government head U.B. Wenas has reportedly offered a R2 million bonus ($1000) to any person who manages to capture a Tasmanian tiger, according to the Antara news agency.

Press reports say the tigers have been sighted in the Abenaho district, 70km north-east of Wamena, and have preyed on domestic animals including pigs and chickens.

Reports cited local officials as saying the rare animal resembled a large dog with light brown fur and dark stripes along its back. Roving packs of the dog-like creatures had preyed on livestock at night.

"At any time when the Tasmanian tigers attack the livestock, the local people are very afraid and stay inside their closed houses, for they fear the animals will kill them if they try to wound the predators," Antara quoted a district official as saying.

While the World Wildlife Fund office in Jayapura has no hard evidence pointing to the existence of a thylacine species in Irian Jaya, it is planning a more thorough investigation.

A spokesman in Jakarta, Ron Lilley, said yesterday the WWF had received reports of a species of wild dog roaming the Pass valley in the Abenaho district. Villagers had killed three of the animals, he said.

The thylacine has been reportedly extinct since the 1930s, with the last known specimen dying in a Hobart zoo.

In recent years, there have been numerous reported sightings of an unusual wild dog in the relatively unexplored Lorentz national park in central Irian Jaya. In 1993, a WWF field researcher found dog-like paw prints, resembling a thylacine, above the snowline in the Jayawijaya range.

Research in the central highlands has all but ceased since scientists were taken hostage and held by OPM guerillas for more than four months last year. The Indonesian Government has since closed the region.

The mountains of Irian Jaya are a rich reserve of plant and animal species. Only four years ago, a new species of tree kangaroo was found there.

"It appears to be one of the richest areas for endemic species in the island of New Guinea," Mr Lilley said yesterday.

Both Mr Lilley and a leading expert on New Guinean mammals, Tim Flannery, of the Australian Museum, Sydney, expressed scepticism about the thylacine sightings. "It's theoretically possible but there's absolutely no hard evidence.

Thylacines disappeared from the Australian mainland 3000 years ago. There has never been any fossil remains found in Irian Jaya but fossils have been found in Papua New Guinea," Dr Flannery said.

(c) Nationwide News Proprietary Ltd, 1997.
AUSTRALIAN 20/08/97 P9


PETER Chapple's photo album contains blurry images of grassland and gory depictions of oddly mauled sheep.

Another is filled with pages of reports from Victorians convinced they have seen the "extinct" Tasmanian tiger loping across roads or into grassland.

Mr Chapple believes the thylacine, regarded as extinct since 1936, roams parts of mainland Australia.

The Clematis resident started the Australian Rare Fauna Research Association in 1984 to document and research sightings of unusual animals.

The association, buoyed by the growing number of reported sightings of the thylacine, has launched the Tiger 2000 project to gather conclusive evidence the animal exists.

Mr Chapple, who juggles his search for the tiger with a career as a tenor, said Tiger 2000 would analyse all sightings and anecdotes to produce a book or film.

"We hope to produce something that puts the entire case for the animal's existence into a framework that's very hard to dispute," he said.

The coup would be to find or clearly film the tiger, a feat that has eluded even the most diehard enthusiasts.

Mr Chapple has taken blurry pictures of a creature crouched in grass, but admits the photograph would never convince sceptics.

He also has a plaster cast of a print he believes is from a tiger.

Reports of sightings consistently mention the animal's unusual gait and stripes. One couple cuddling in sand dunes near Rye contacted the association to report their shock at seeing a tiger-like animal watching over them.

The association also investigates unusual maulings of stock. One photograph in Mr Chapple's album shows a sheep with flesh neatly stripped from its neck and spinal bone.

Mr Chapple said his association had recorded close to 2000 alleged sightings of the Tasmanian tiger in the past 13 years.

(C) 1997 Herald and Weekly Times Limited.


A STRANGE animal resembling a Tasmanian tiger has a NSW farmer scratching his head.

Denis Millar, 49, of North Tumbulgum near the NSW-Queensland border, said yesterday he saw the mysterious animal on a neighbour's property.

He said the animal, which he claimed could not be confused with a dog, was the size of a fox, with the head of a kangaroo and had a thick striped tail which tapered at the end.

He said other members of his family has seen the same animal on separate occasions, as had neighbours.

Mr Millar said he had seen old pictures of the Tasmanian Tiger, which is believed to be extinct, but the animal he saw was smaller and did not have stripes on its body.

(c) Nationwide News Proprietary Ltd, 1997.