This is a thylacine. It’s also called a Tasmanian tiger or a Tasmanian wolf, but it’s neither tiger nor wolf at all, but a marsupial carnivore much more closely related to the kangaroo and the Tasmanian devil. It lived in Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania a long time ago, but in more recent times was restricted to Tasmania. The last known thylacine dies in captivity in 1933. His name was Benjamin.
There are plans underway to bring the thylacine back from the dead using gene editing— CRISPR— and some other cool trickery and created a hybrid with a lot of thylacine characteristics and DNA.
The only question remaining is, should it happen? Thylacines died out in Australia 3000 years ago following human contact and climate change, and seem to have been headed toward natural extinction before European settlement helped hasten the decline on Tasmania . How would what is 1 basically a new species impact Australia? How would a recovery of Thylacine impact Tasmania?
The hope is that by restoring the Tasmania’s apex predator, balance might be restored, and the entire landscape transformed like the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone did. It seems altogether possible. Without the thylacines munching on the weaker members of the population, Tasmanian devils nearly disappeared through disease.
Wolves were hunted out of Yellowstone in the 1930’s and were restored about sixty years later. Thylacines disappeared in the 1910’s to the 1930’s, but it hasn’t been so long that the ecosystem has completely reset.
And why does it matter? All ecosystems are, well… systems. They’re interconnected. We talk about apex predators and we can track the remarkable impact their presence or absence has in a given place, but in truth all the elements of an ecosystem matter, from the inorganic/organic European contact wiped out the Aboriginal Tasmanians within 30 years. I’m sure that comes 1 as no surprise to anyone matrix of soil to the animals to plants and water cycles, everything contributes to the living entity that is any given ecosystem.
Ecosystems are communities. And ecosystems create communities of communities, more complex and interconnected than we denizens of a post-industrialized West might imagine.
It’s no shocking revelation that we’re living in a mass extinction event, brought on by climatic shifts triggered by human activity. We are, in a sense, the apex species of the planet. And because we are, our actions impact the rest of the community in ways disproportionate to our numbers or our longevity.
I talk a lot about apocalypse as revelation of what’s broken, the experience of loss, and the revelation of new possibilities. As we move more fully into this apocalyptic moment, we’re going to see more and more clearly what’s wrong. Diagnosing the problem won’t require much thought. But the other aspect of apocalypse— discerning new possibilities— will become more and more needed.
I want to believe that deep spiritual traditions contain within them the resources necessary to navigate disaster. I want to believe that even Christianity— the religion that walked hand-in-gauntlet with the imperial impulse that has helped push us toward apocalypse— might have something to offer the world.
I hope one of those resources is humility. I hope the religion that’s captured the biggest marketshare of the powerful communities of the globe will tenderly and lovingly step aside and listen to those traditions which have lived closest to the ground. I hope Christianity can empower scientific progress toward slowing climate change. I hope Christianity can lend its silence to give voice to new ways of living on this planet.
I hope we can move away from power over and toward the opening lines of our ancient scripture. I hope we can look at the world and mutter, “It is good,” even as we work to restore its goodness.