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Three years ago, almost to the day, I posted here about my favourite extinct animal.  There’s a tiny, tiny chance it’s not in fact extinct, which is why it’s the focus of ongoing cryptozoological hope.

The romantic appeal of the thylacine, for me, is founded on two things.  One, that haunting film of what was quite possibly the very last surviving individual of the species; living out its final, humbled days in a zoo after every other example of its kind had been hounded into non-existence by us humans:

Two, the notion – fostered by numerous and continuing, if not very convincing, sighting reports – that there are still thylacines out there in the wilds of Tasmania. Clinging to a secret existence. I don’t really believe it, but I want to.

All of which brings me to this movie, which has apparently been out on dvd for a while but which I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled across the trailer:

It looks kind of appealing: moody, atmospheric, nice landscapes. It’s got a 70% score on rotten tomatoes, which suggests it might be worth a watch. (Don’t suppose by any remote chance anyone’s seen it and can tell me whether it’s worth renting?)

The reason I was so interested to discover the movie, though, is that a few years back I read the book on which it’s based.  I can’t speak to the quality of the film, but the book … I loved it.  Wonderful.

I don’t read all that much mainstream, literary fiction these days, but The Hunter by Julia Leigh is high on my list of personal favourite novels of that sort, certainly those I’ve read in the last decade. It’s hypnotically simple, sparse, bleak and compelling. It helps, of course, if you’re into wilderness and wild animals – for long stretches it’s about one man, alone in the mountains, on the trail of the rarest animal in the world – but it’s principally about people.

When I read it, I was overwhlemingly reminded of Ernest Hemingway by the simplicity and clarity of the prose. I found it much more absorbing and subtly complex than anything of Hemingway’s I’ve read, though. (Except perhaps The Old Man and the Sea). It’s utterly unlike the vast majority of mainstream fictions. I suppose you could even make a case for it being speculative fiction of a sort, since it is built around a counterfactual assumption: that the thylacine is not in fact extinct.

Either way, I’d highly recommend it, for anyone who wants to see how thematically and atmospherically rich a tapestry a skilled author can weave, in relatively few pages, from simple words.  Like I said, it’s wonderful if you ask me.  Julia Leigh, as best I can tell, has only written one other book since – one that hasn’t received the same acclaim – but honestly, if I’d written The Hunter, I’d be happy to rest on those laurels.  It’s that good.

If you only read one mainstream novel in 2013, I suggest you make it this one.  It’s short, so even if you don’t like it, what have you got to lose?  I’ve already decided one of my New Year’s resolutions – my only one, in all likelihood, because I don’t really believe in them – is to re-read it.

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Was on holiday last week. Here. The only report of consequence I have from a jolly pleasant week is this: I met an ent.  Cool dude.  Didn’t get formally introduced, unfortunately, so I don’t know his name, but I’m guessing it’s Willowthatch.  Something like that.

A fine looking fellow, whatever his moniker.  He’s currently calling the Cairn O’Mohr winery home.  I’m not sure they even know he’s an ent, to be honest, and I didn’t mention it, in case he preferred to remain incognito.

Actually, I do have something else to report, but I suspect it’s of more interest to me than anyone else: best sighting I’ve ever had of a wild otter, paddling about in the River Earn one lunchtime.  I say best sighting – it was only a couple of seconds, but that’s still better than I’ve ever managed before, as far as I can remember.  Still, never mind all that.  Ent!


I’ve got a passing interest in cryptozoology. Not in the sense that I actually believe there are dinosaurs living wild in the Congo, or hairy hominids roaming the North American continent, or plesiosaurs splashing around in a certain well known body of water not too far from where I currently sit (even though I am apparently blind to the evidence provided by Google Earth itself in that last case).

No, it’s more a case that I would like to believe all that stuff, and find those who do, the stories they tell and the quests and investigations they undertake interesting and vaguely appealing. There’s a certain romantic instinct – a sort of longing for mystery and strangeness in the world – that seems to be part of the mindset, and I think that’s a very basic human attribute. A very high proportion of us are drawn in one way or another to the mysterious and the strange, and we find our own personal ways of bringing those elements of the world into our lives. The search for unexpected wildlife fits the bill in a lot of respects.

And although I dismissed the plausibility of some of the most famous cryptozoological icons right at the start, there are several other cases that I tend to think of as ‘semi-cryptozoological’ that appeal much more strongly to both my heart and my head. For example, there’s the possibility of big cats living wild in the UK, eating our sheep.

Or, and here we get to the thing that really captures my imagination, and even moves me, there’s the thylacine. Could there be, somewhere in Tasmania, or even mainland Australia or New Guinea, a surviving population of the largest modern marsupial carnivore? Living in the wildest places it can find, skirting the fringes of human awareness and imagination? I would be utterly delighted if that one day proved to be true, not least because it’s humanity’s fault that the poor old Tasmanian Tiger disappeared in the first place.

I think part of the reason the thylacine has a hold on my imagination, and that of many other people, is that we have film of what may well have been the last individual of the species. Call me a big softy if you like (my excuse is that I’m a wildlife fan by instinct and by education) but I find this clip really quite moving. Was this animal, at the time it was filmed, the very last of its kind on the whole planet, thanks to us:

Probably. But not necessarily, if you climb aboard the cryptozoology wagon. There have been heaps of alleged thylacine sightings, and even some films, including one from this very year that’s now drawing to a close.

Not exactly conclusive, huh? Unless you were after proof that there are mangy-looking dogs and foxes running around the Antipodes, in which case – well, make your own judgement.

But this, out of all the cryptozoological tales, is the one I want to be true. I reckon it’d be wonderful if in one of those clips we were looking at an animal that had survived, hidden, despite humanity’s best efforts – both intentional and otherwise – to rid the world of it. If I was a multi-millionaire with time on my hands, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to embark on expeditions in search of the yeti or the sasquatch; but the thylacine … yes, I could spare a fraction of my vast wealth to mount a quest in the wilds of Tasmania. Guess I’m just a romantic at heart.

(Though if I did find something out there, whether or not I’d tell anyone, I’m not sure. If anything deserves a bit of privacy, a bit of human-free peace and quiet, it’s the thylacine.)