Billionaire Kerry Packer once offered $1.25million for the capture of a ‘live, uninjured’ Tasmanian tiger
Fresh photographs said to show a family of Tasmanian tigers living in remote bushland have reignited hopes among eternal optimists the fabled animal is not really extinct.
Such a discovery would be among the scientific finds of the century but 16 years ago there was an even more enticing reward offered for proving thylacines still exist.
To mark the 125th anniversary of The Bulletin magazine in 2005 its billionaire owner Kerry Packer put up $1.25million for the capture of a ‘live, uninjured’ Tasmanian tiger.
The offer caused huge controversy, particularly in Tasmania, with concerns it would lead to international bounty hunters stalking through the state’s pristine wilderness.
It was also not immediately popular with Packer, a famously big-time gambler, who wanted to know the odds of someone claiming the prize before he risked footing the bill.
Answering that question was left to Bulletin editor Garry Linnell, who came up with the offer as a publicity stunt to promote a magazine losing millions of dollars a year.
Linnell explained to Packer the conditions of claiming the reward were so onerous it was next to impossible for anyone to score the $1.25million.
A successful applicant would have to capture a Tasmanian tiger without breaking any Australian or state laws and deliver it unharmed to The Bulletin’s office in Park Street, Sydney.
The thylacine would have to be escorted to Sydney by an animal welfare specialist.
The Bulletin magazine, owned by Kerry Packer, offered a $1.25million reward for the capture of a Tasmanian tiger to marks its 125th anniversary. The terms and conditions, however, meant it was almost impossible for anyone to claim the prize, even if they did find a thylacine
When The Bulletin’s offer was made there had not been a confirmed sighting of a Tasmanian tiger since the death of the last one in captivity (pictured) at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936. Despite regular reported glimpses of the animal there has not been one confirmed since
Shortly before publication of the anniversary edition Linnell was summoned by Packer’s personal assistant to his office at Australian Consolidated Press.
‘He puffs away on his cigarette and then he says, “You’re about to throw away $1.25million of my own f***ing money,’ Linnell said.
Linnell noted there had not been a confirmed sighting of a Tasmanian tiger since the death of the last one in captivity at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936.
‘I said, “We’ve spoken to the experts – it’s a billion-to-one that there’s a Tassie tiger alive – and even if there is, think about this, they have to give it to us.
Linnell told Packer: ‘We become the rightful owners and think about how much that’s going to be worth. It’s got to be five to ten million dollars.’
‘He was a betting man so he always liked those sort of odds,’ Linnell said. ‘He grunted and then he smiled and said, “I like the sound of that. Go and do it. Off you go.” And off we went.’
The reward offer was made on February 23 with a June 30 deadline.
‘A live, uninjured animal must be produced,’ The Bulletin conditions stated. ‘All government regulations and provisions must be adhered to. A panel of eminent experts chosen by us will have the final say – along with conclusive DNA testing.’
Environmentalists soon said the bounty could lead to hunters harming other animals and the money would be better spent preserving the threatened Tasmanian devil.
Neil Waters has been combing the Tasmanian bush for years to uncover evidence of thlyacines and believes he has ‘irrefutable proof’ the marsupial is not extinct. Pictured above is what Waters says is a juvenile Tasmanian tiger
Neil Waters was so confident he had filmed a family of thylacines he sent the photographs he captured to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for assessment. The museum has examined the images and determined they more likely depict a small type of wallaby
Linnell described the $1.25million promotion as simply continuing The Bulletin’s century-old tradition of sponsoring scientific expeditions and said he wanted to ‘solve one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries.’
He denied the competition could jeopardise the lives of any remaining thylacines, saying there would need to be a large population for the animal to still exist.
‘If it’s there, there’s got to be four or five hundred out there,’ he said. ‘There isn’t just one ageing, arthritic Tasmanian tiger walking through the forest.’
Bulletin editor Garry Linnell came up with the idea of the $1.25million reward as a publicity stunt to promote the loss-making magazine
The latest Tasmanian tiger hysteria was sparked by thylacine hunter Neil Waters, who released photographs taken three weeks ago which he said showed a family of the marsupials.
Waters, president of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia, sent the images to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for assessment.
The museum’s honorary curator of vertebrate zoology, Nick Mooney, concluded the three animals were more likely to be pademelons, a type of small wallaby.
In 2005 when the Bulletin offered its reward Mooney was a wildlife biologist with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.
He was already sick of stunts surrounding the tiger back then.
‘It’s getting to the point where it’s trivialising something,’ he told The Age. ‘The net product is negative because it discredits and makes a joke out of extinct and endangered creatures.
‘At its best, it’s a waste of time. At the worst you could kill a thylacine, potentially. If someone did, we probably wouldn’t hear about it, but if you catch a thylacine in a trap you’re bound to injure it. If people don’t read the fine print we’ll have real problems.’
A thylacine reward offer was not unprecedented. In 1983 the American media mogul Ted Turner put up $US100,000 for proof of the Tasmanian tiger’s existence.
While Turner’s offer was later withdrawn, Linnell’s reward was more successful, at least for The Bulletin.
Linnell said the $1.25million promotion was simply continuing The Bulletin’s century-old tradition of sponsoring scientific expeditions and he wanted to ‘solve one of Australia’s most enduring mysteries.’ The image above of a thylacine was taken in 1933
The stunt attracted immediate media attention from around the world, garnered free publicity worth an estimated $4million and inspired at least one imitator.
Burnie-based tour company Thylacine Expeditions quickly offered $1.75million reward for pictures of a Tasmanian tiger in its own promotional gimmick.
The Bulletin’s competition was open to persons 18 years or older and tiger hunters were responsible for obtaining any government permits, approvals, licences or other necessary forms of consent.
But Tasmanian Environment Minister Judy Jackson said there was no way under her state’s law any permits to capture a Tasmanian tiger would be issued.
Mooney also said it would be impossible to claim the reward.
‘They can’t win because one of the conditions is to do it legally,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘If they do it illegally and they haven’t got the permits, well they can’t claim the money.’
Linnell, who spent six weeks with lawyers devising the terms and conditions, replied there were loopholes in the legislation which meant the prize could be claimed.
Bulletin editor Garry Linnell was summoned by Packer’s personal assistant to his office at Australian Consolidated Press. ‘He puffs away on his cigarette and then he says, “You’re about to throw away $1.25million of my own f***ing money,’ Linnell said. Packer is pictured
‘It’s my competition, it’s my rules and if [the critics] want to have their own competition, let them,’ he said.
‘Yes, it is tough but you know what? It’s $1.25 million at stake.’
Linnell told Daily Mail Australia there had been fears ‘bounty hunters from South Africa and elsewhere’ would descend upon Tasmania, ‘stalking through the pristine wilderness’.
‘It took on a life of its own after a while,’ he said. ‘There was a lot of huffing and puffing over it. It was all good fun.’
Like many Australians he had initially been excited, albeit extremely sceptical, about the latest claims a thylacine had been captured on camera.
‘There’s something about the Tasmania tiger,’ he said. There’s always that small element of doubt.
‘I think it’s probably the closest thing that we now have to a Loch Ness monster.’
While Linnell received photographs purportedly of Tasmanian tigers in 2005 no one tried to claim the reward.
Packer died in December that year. The Bulletin folded in January 2008.
Neil Waters says these footprints belong to a Tasmanian tiger despite most experts believing the animal is extinct, like The Bulletin magazine