Despite the last known thylacine dying in captivity in 1933, people really want to believe there are still rogue Tasmanian Tigers roaming around in the remote outback. Especially members of Australia's active thylacine awareness community. Unfortunately, new mathematical modelling from University of California ecologist Colin Carlson suggests that, despite supposed recent sightings of the elusive striped dog, there's only a one in 1.6 trillion chance that the thylacine isn't extinct. Which, to be fair, isn't quite zero.
But it is extremely close. Carlson's unreviewed study, available to read on bioRxiv, collected data on both confirmed and unconfirmed thylacine sightings between 1900 and now. Using the Bayesian method of data modelling, the most optimistic estimate researchers could make was that wild thylacines probably became extinct in the 1950s. But the most likely extinction date would be around the year 1940. The probability that there's still a thylacine alive in the year 2017 is virtually nil.
This result is extremely conservative compared to other studies which have suggested the species may have died out in remote areas as recently as the late 1980s. It also flies in the face of recurring claims that the thylacine has been quietly hiding out on the Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland. Rangers in that area have reported that local Aboriginal people are familiar with a striped doglike creature.
While most scientists have admitted defeat, thylacine truthers all over Australia keep the flame burning. Many are convinced or at least optimistic that the species persists, even in spite of the odds.
Speaking to VICE, founder of Thylacine Awareness Australia Neil Waters was disparaging of Carlson's study. "I thought it was pretty funny actually, I'd love to know how they came to that conclusion, what methodology they used," he said.
Waters became interested in thylacines when he spotted a striped dog in the wild back in 2010. "I've seen two of them now, so that certainly gives me a personal understanding of why the animal is not extinct," he explains.
"But I also have many, many, many firsthand reports from multiple witnesses. Just ordinary people who happen to have seen thylacines, not just people like me who are running out there wishing and hoping to find one...I think it's naive to assume all of those people are wrong."
The truth is out there.
Follow Kat on Twitter