Thylacines in the Bronx – by Madeleine Thompson

Between 1902 and 1919, the Bronx Zoo exhibited four thylacines. They were housed in the fox dens, which were near where the Dancing Crane is now.

In 1902, William Hornaday, first director of the Bronx Zoo, turned down a pregnant thylacine, which would have been the first to be shown in the United States. It went to the National Zoo and promptly gave birth. Henry Fairfield Osborn (paleontologist and president of the American Museum of Natural History) was unhappy about the missed opportunity, and Hornaday bought  the next available thylacine for $125. On December 17, 1902, the Bronx Zoo obtained this thylacine, a male, from the animal dealer Carl Hagenbeck. In doing so, it became one of seven zoos outside of Australia and the second in the US (behind the National Zoo) to hold the species. The thylacine died on August 15, 1908.

The Bronx Zoo received a second male on January 26, 1912. Conflicting reports suggest that it came from either the Beaumaris Zoo in Tasmania or from the London Zoo. According to that year’s Annual Report, “while it arrived in good health, it was so nervous and unreconciled to captivity that it lived only a few months,” and died on November 20.  A third, unsexed individual arrived at the Bronx Zoo on November 7, 1916 from Sydney dealer Ellis S. Joseph. It arrived in poor health and died seven days later. The fourth and final animal was a female who arrived on July 14, 1917. She had been purchased by Ellis from the Beaumaris Zoo and resold to the Bronx Zoo. She died on September 13, 1919.

Upon viewing a Bronx Zoo thylacine during a visit, the director of the Melbourne Zoo, W. H. LeSouef, told Hornaday: “I advise you to take excellent care of that specimen; for when it is gone, you never will get another. The species soon will be extinct.” Hornaday included this quote in his Our Vanishing Wildlife (1913) in a section on “Species of Large Mammals Almost Extinct.” In a later section of the book on the importance of wildlife preserves, Hornaday affirmed: “The extermination of the thylacine would be a zoological calamity; but it is impending.”

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With many thanks to Madeleine Thompson at the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo (New York) for compiling this information. Thanks to the WCS for sharing with us these photographs taken of a thylacine at the Bronx Zoo in 1903.

All images © Wildlife Conservation Society. Shared by permission of the WCS Archives.

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