The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Tiger, has been in the news again with the re-emergence of a preserved pelt.
This pelt was purchased in Whanganui in 1923, and has recently resurfaced in the Kahutara taxidermy gallery near Martinborough.
It is very exciting news as samples of the extinct creature are increasingly rare, and every new specimen uncovered from public and private collections provides further opportunity for research.
The name Thylacinus cynocephalus translates as "pouched dog with a wolf head". It resembled a large dog, and both the males and females had pouches. The thylacine's pouch faced towards the back of the body, but only the female pouches were home to the pups.
Despite its common and scientific names ('tiger' refers to its stripes), the thylacine's closest living relative is the Tasmanian devil, another marsupial.
Both thylacines and Tasmanian devils once roamed the Australian mainland, but by the time Europeans arrived in 1803, they were only found on the island of Tasmania.
It is estimated there were 5000 thylacines on Tasmania when Europeans arrived, but they did not last long. Their natural habitat was cleared for farms.
Their favourite prey, the wallaby, was hunted by humans and the thylacines themselves were hunted by, and faced competition from, introduced wild dogs.
By far the biggest threat was hunting mandated by the Australian government.
Thylacines were blamed for attacks on sheep and chickens, despite evidence pointing to wild dogs and poor stock management.
Hunters were offered a bounty of £1 for an adult carcass and 10 shillings for a juvenile.
Between 1830 and 1920 it is estimated more than 3500 thylacines were shot.
Zoological communities became concerned by the decimated population and called for protection of the species, which was finally granted in July 1936.
By then, they had not been seen outside of zoos for years. Benjamin, the last known living thylacine, died of exposure in a Tasmanian zoo on September 7, 1936, just two months later. Although extinction was not confirmed until the 1980s, this is one of the few times we can pinpoint the exact date a species became extinct.
Studies on the remaining specimens have continued and have recently shown that a thylacine's jaw, despite its size, was too weak to hunt anything larger than a possum. Investigation into the teeth have indicated the thylacine only ate meat, not bone, unlike wild dogs.
To this day, many people still claim to see the semi-nocturnal creatures roaming the bush. The Bulletin magazine has even offered a $1.25 million reward for proof of existence.
The Thylacine Awareness Group on Facebook has over 3000 members. Group co-ordinator Neil Waters encourages members to share their stories and invites enthusiasts to send him samples for testing for Tasmanian tiger origin.
He has received many samples of suspected thylacine faeces, but to date, none of them have proved to come from the extinct creature.
•Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.