Spirit-dwelling Tasmanian tiger in the thylacine-obsessed town of Nannup, WA

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Some scientists say the thylacine could be brought back from extinction, but a small town in south-west Western Australia thinks the ancient marsupial never really left.

Stories of giant paw prints and unidentified animals that move like no other creature have been circulating in the town of Nannup for decades.

The thylacine – better known as the Tasmanian tiger – was a carnivorous marsupial that once roamed across Australia.

The last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936. (Provided: NFSA)

It died out on the mainland thousands of years ago, and the last one left in Tasmania perished in a Hobart zoo in 1936. The “Tassie tigers” were declared extinct in the 1980s.

But deep within Karri Forest, the legend of the creature is alive and well.

He is known as Nannup Tiger.

A sign at the entrance to Nannup
Nannup is about 260 km south of Perth, with a population of just over 1,000 people. (ABC Southwest: Anthony Pancia)

true believers

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Audio playback.  Duration: 2 minutes 52 seconds

The legend of the Nannup tiger.

Many Southwesterners believe they have seen thylacines in the bush.

They tell tales of unexplained footprints and huge creatures with bodies like a dog and tails like a kangaroo.

Wendy Slee is a true believer – her father Syd has spent decades trying to prove the existence of the Nannup tiger, to no avail.

“I’ve seen them many times in my life,” she said.

“You may not care, but I’ve seen them enough times now to know they exist.”

Two models of Tasmanian Tigers in the bush.
Some of the life-size thylacine models in the bush around Nannup.(Provided: Wendy Slee)

Stories like Ms Slee’s have drawn hardcore thylacine seekers to Nannup, which was the subject of a National Thylacine Awareness Group film in 2020.

But even for those who don’t buy into the stories, thylacines are ingrained in the city’s identity.

Tiger stripes decorate the pub, a thylacine silhouette is the mascot for the annual music festival and local shops are adorned with Nannup Tiger products.

Tiger soft toys in a store.
Nannup tiger merchandise at a local store.(Provided: A taste of Nannup)
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Audio playback.  Duration: 8 minutes 7 seconds

The legend of Nannup Tiger lives in blues song.

Australian blues icon Matt Taylor even has a song about the beloved story, written while living in the area with his band Western Flyer in the 1970s.

The lyrics paint a picture of the local legend:

“She doesn’t mind if you don’t believe in her – she doesn’t believe in human beings either. The Nannup Tiger is a flash in the passing bush.”

“You wait a few hours [in Nannup] and you’ll hear the story,” Taylor said.

“As soon as I heard that, I couldn’t not write a song about it.”

a model marsupial on orange rocks
Ian Gibb says people are fascinated by life-size models.(Provided: Wendy Slee)

Stripes in the forest

In the bush around Nannup you can see a thylacine – albeit in model form.

Local councilor Ian Gibb championed the ‘stripes in the forest’ project, which saw life-sized thylacine models dotted throughout the dense Nannup bush.

a man poses with a life-size thylacine model
Mr. Gibb with one of the model thylacines.(ABC Southwest WA: Louise Miolin)

“When I came to Nannup about 13 years ago, I saw history and thought there must be a tourist attraction here,” he said.

“The reaction is incredible.

“People come for the tiger.”

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