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Australian Megafauna

A second academic controversy surrounds the fate of the Australian megafauna.

Across the planet in Europe, Asia and the Americas the arrival of modern humans coincides with species extinction.  In Australia megafauna disappeared between  40 thousand and 50 thousand years ago.  In the Americas this coincides with the arrival of modern man about 13 thousand years ago. The hairy mammoth died out about 4 thousand years ago after long and well documented human predation extending over thousands of years.  That the extinction of the megafauna in New Zealand was due to human predation is incontrovertible.  There is recent evidence that giant Moa were driven to extinction within 150 years of  Māori settlement less than 1 thousand years ago. When we were in Malta we saw evidence of the Pygmy Elephants that died out in various Mediterranean sites soon after human settlement.

There is still academic debate about the role that humans played in these extinctions in Australia, because, amongst other things, if the longest timeline is correct, humans must have coexisted with these animals for tens of thousands of years before they became extinct.


Diprotodon - Extinct 25,000 years ago

Marsupial lion - Extinct 30,000 years ago

Diprotodon jaw and teeth

Reasons for extinctions are still in dispute

Exhibits in the Australian Museum, Sydney


More recently the arrival of dogs in Australia clearly coincides with new extinctions. In particular the previous top predator the Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) finally became extinct in mainland Australia around the time of the Roman conquests, probably due to the arrival of the dingo.  Its image can still be seen in rock art near Darwin indicating that some of this art is at least two thousand years old. 


Rock Art Thylacine
Rock Art Thylacine


The Thylacine became extinct in Tasmania in the 20th century; after dogs (and a head bounty) were introduced by Europeans in the 18th century. 

The human introduction of rabbits and cats has done untold damage to other species; and another wave of native wildlife extinctions, and threatened extinctions, is now being suffered due to the introduction of the Cane Toad to Queensland in 1935.



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