THYLACINE SIGHTINGS 1953 - 1990
TIGER TRAIL TELLS TALE
‘Do as we say and do what we tell you and I’ll let the matter drop. Let’s call it a hyena or a dingo, shall we?’
These words have haunted Ber Maher for half a century.
The former rabbit trapper believes he captured and killed a thylacine in northeastern Tasmanian in 1953.
While authorities told him it was not a thylacine, he wonders why the skin was taken from him and never returned.
Bert Maher was a 28-year-old rabbit trapper in 1953, working at the edge of the forests around South Springfield when an animal started chewing the heads of the rabbits that lay in Mr. Maher’s traps.
Mr. Maher set a special trap for what he expected to be a dog.
Sure enough, one Monday morning before light, he across what sounded like a dog struggling in the trap.
Without a gun, he clubbed the animal over the head with a branch and took it home in a chaff bag before dawn and skinned it.
‘When an animal’s got broken legs or some damage, I always put them down, but save the skins,’ he said.
Later that day, he told the local barber and the barber called the local newspaper, which sent a journalist to interview him at the barber shop.
‘My haircut was not so good,’ he recalls.
‘Mr. Robinson forgot how I like my hair, all he could talk about was the tiger.’
The North Eastern Advertiser ran the story "Tasmanian Tiger Killed at South Springfield" on the front page, beside a story on the passing of Queen Mary on Friday 27 March, 1953.
The Mercury ran the story the following day.
The article reported the theory that wild fires in the hills had forced the tiger into lower country.
Mr. Maher said two men from the government visited the day after the newspaper article.
‘These chaps were Fauna Board people and (they) asked to see the tiger,’ he said. ‘I took them around and showed them my skin.’
One of the men was also a police officer and the other was from New South Wales.
Bert said they were furious when he told them he had put the carcass in a boiling pot for his neighbour’s pigs.
The chap with all the say poked me in the chest very hard and told me (killing a thylacine) cold cost me £1000,’ Mr. Maher said.
The men pulled the skin from where it was drying on the shed wall, and also took a quoll skin, Mr. Maher said.
Mr. Maher asked them how he could get the skin back.
‘I said "If it’s not a dingo, what is it?"’ Mr. Maher said.
He said he was told he could even be jailed for killing a thylacine.
The men returned the next day, asking Mr. Maher where he had trapped the animal.
‘I said I would tell them if they left me and my family alone, and he said I had no say in it,’ Mr. Maher said.
When they arrived at the spot Mr. Maher showed them, the men immediately started to collect scats and told Mr. Maher to leave them to it and not tell anyone they were there.
Mr. Maher said the men visited him as they were leaving and told him that should he catch another animal, he should not tell anyone and contact the Flora and Fauna Protection Board.
‘They told me to call it a hyena and only to talk to them,’ he said.
‘In my life I have had a lot of ups and downs. But this was one of the days I wished I was a bloody bull so I could chase them all the way to Launceston.’
The only mention of Mr. Maher’s skin in official records is the minutes of the board’s meeting in May 1953, where Mr. Maher is listed - with two other people who killed an eagle and a devil respectively - as being warned about the consequences of killing native fauna.
Mr. Maher believes the two men told the Flora and Fauna Protection Board that the animal killed was a quoll and not a thylacine.
And he believes the two men kept the thylacine skin and only put the quoll skin on display.
"They told me it was a tiger cat to hush it up," Mr. Maher said.
Mr. Maher found what he believed to be a tiger only 17 years after the last thylacine in captivity died in 1936.
While a tiger died in captivity, that does not say that every single thylacine was dead around the state, he said.
The animal was pronounced extinct 50 years later, because it was determined that there was no forensic evidence to back up the sighting claims.
Mr. Maher believes his tiger skin is in a private collection somewhere.
He also believes tigers still exist in the northeast of Tasmania, but they are threatened.
In the same year as Mr. Maher’s tiger was found the Department of Agriculture was trailing a new poison - sodium monofluroacetate or 1080 - to control rabbit numbers on pastoral land.
Mr. Maher said the Flora and Fauna Board in the 1950’s was mostly made up of skin merchants, trappers and farmers.
He said it had only one scientific representative.
"I think that’s still the case."
Mr. Maher said forestry pine plantations were being established where he trapped the animal.
"They were putting pines in there and if a tiger was found they’d be worried they would be shut down," he said.
NOTE: A picture of Mr. Maher and his dog appear in the article with this caption,’"OLD FRIENDS: Bert Maher and his best mate reminisce about the past glories in the hills and dales of the North-West.’ Picture: Deanne Rogers (We believe the above ‘North-West’ is a typo and should read, ‘North East’)