If the Tasmanian Tiger Were Found, What Should We Do? an Interdisciplinary Guide to Endangered Species Recovery. (Cases)
Clark, Tim W., Reading, Richard P., Wallace, Richard L., Wilson, Barbara A., Endangered Species Update
The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), is a wolf-like carnivorous marsupial last reported in the 1930s in Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Although the species is likely extinct, sightings are reported annually. A fictional scenario is described in which a female thylacine with four pouched young is captured. This scenario is explored and an interdisciplinary approach to endangered species recovery is introduced. This approach is applicable to all endangered species recovery efforts and focuses on the principal dimensions of recovery: (1) orienting to the problem at hand and meeting it successfully; (2) understanding the recovery effort itself, its full context, and the required management (decision) process; (3) using a broad range of methods; and (4) integrating research results into a comprehensive recovery process (picture of the whole). By using this interdisciplinary approach, recovery can be systematically understood, best managed, and restoration prospects enhanced.
Some people believe that the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), still exists in the wilds of Tasmania (Figure 1). Finding surviving thylacines would focus international attention on this magnificent animal. It would be viewed as our last chance to restore a unique member of Australia's and the world's natural heritage. Resources likely would be unlimited. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the species is extinct both on mainland Australia and in Tasmania. Conservation did not come to the aid of this fascinating animal when it was most needed, decades ago.
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If the thylacine did exist and was discovered, what should happen? Are we equipped to deal with such an important conservation challenge? What actions will we need to undertake to recover it? We know that endangered species recovery is always complex, risky, and a difficult task. The thylacine conservation scenario we present below clearly demonstrates this. The problem of recovering an endangered species can be guided using biological science, but more than biological science is required in species recovery. Information from other disciplines is necessary. People must be organized, knowledge and skill need to be mobilized and integrated, and an adequate decision process is required. The challenge becomes one of integrating diverse perspectives, knowledge, skills, and actions all focused on the species' recovery in a timely, reliable way. Clearly an interdisciplinary approach is needed (see Clark 1997, 2002). Exploring the thylacine scenario illustrates how an interdisciplinary approach could aid all recovery efforts.
This paper describes a fictional scenario wherein a live thylacine is captured. We explore an interdisciplinary approach to endangered species recovery applicable to this case and others. This approach is generalized and draws on systems thinking and the policy sciences. We provide a brief overview of the approach, identify relevant literature, and examine part of the approach (i.e. the "intelligence" function) in the limited space available.
Rediscovery of the thylacine
Jack O'Halloran, a Tasmanian farmer from Black Creek, calls the local Department of Parks, Lands & Wildlife in Launceston. "Charlie I've got a problem 'ere, sumthins turned up youse might be interested in. She's in the back shed--chook feathers everywhere." Charlie asks Jack to describe the animal, as well as its condition and behavior. "Size of a large dog, sandy colour, but with them stripes down the back--that was what struck me" replied Jack. He also describes the animal resting quietly in the shed, under a table. The chickens were still excited. "Reckon it may have chased a chook in from the yard last night, was probably after some tucker, it's been pretty damn cold out here this summer. The shed door was closed, but I locked it after I peaked in. …