Scientists plan to clone extinct Tasmanian tiger

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SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian scientists have revived a project to try to bring an extinct animal, the fabled Tasmanian tiger, back to life, the team leader said.

Renewed determination to recover genes from the bones and teeth of the tiger in museums had impressed sceptics, the dean of science at the University of New South Wales, Professor Mike Archer, told ABC radio here.

"There are a few of them who are going to be negative no matter what happens and say everything's impossible," Archer said. "But already we've passed so many hurdles of those kinds."

Archer launched a project to clone the animal using DNA recovered from a pickled tiger pup when he was director of the Australian Museum in Sydney in 1999.

He left the museum in 2003 and the project was abandoned earlier this year, with researchers saying they could not find enough quality DNA from the tiger or thylacine.

The Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which looked like a large, long dog with stripes, was hunted close to extinction within a hundred years of the arrival of the first European settlers on the island south of the Australian mainland.

They were puzzled by and feared the animal, despite its shy, secretive nature and preference for avoiding humans.

The last known tiger died at Tasmania's Hobart Zoo in 1936, but several sightings in the wild have been claimed since then.

Ealier this year, a news magazine, The Bulletin, offered a reward of 1.25 million dollars (929,000 US) to anyone who could prove the animal had survived, but the cash went unclaimed.

Editor Gary Linnell said that after "unprecedented interest" searchers had found "not a shred of evidence, not a bone, not a dropping, not a shred of hair".

Tasmanian wildlife biologist Nick Mooney told ABC radio the latest search had only reinforced the enduring mystery of the beast.

"Unless there's absolute proof, people will go on speculating," he said.

Archer, however, is determined to recreate the beast.

"Some of the worst critics of this project, most of them curiously coming from Tasmania, have folded up and said, well, if they can help and there's something they can contribute, they're happy to be part of it," he said.

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