Legend has it that a ferocious “drop bear,” a large Koala, lurked in the forests of Australia and feasted on human blood. The myth has long been used to frighten tourists.

Legend, however,  is almost reality. The largest meat-eating marsupial that ever existed actually hunted across Australia, stalking and ambushing its prey, dragging it up into the trees and stripping it of its flesh to eat. Newly discovered claw marks in caves have proven this climbing ability and method of eating.

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Thylacoleo carnifex

Paleoecologists from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia debunked earlier hypothesis suggesting that these creatures dieted on crocodile eggs or melons. In examining claw marks 9-feet high up the soft rock walls of Tight Entrance Cave in southwestern Australia, evidence revealed that T. carnifex could climb. Based on the claw marks and remains in the cave, it was determined that it was a “flesh specialist” who stripped meat off of bones instead of chewing them. No vegetarian diet for this Koala.

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Claw Marks in Tight Entrance cave

Stephen Wu, a biologist at the University of New South Wales, who studied T. carnifix, said in 2008,

My results suggest that the marsupial lion employed a unique killing technique. It used its massive carnissial cheekteeth to effect major trauma and a rapid kill. Unlike any living mammalian carnivore, the marsupial’s carnassials were not only butchery tools but also active components of the killing process.

Over 50,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene period, Thyacoleo carnifex ruled the forests and resided and raised its young in caves. A relative of the Koala, it hunted giant kangaroos and aboriginal humans. Called “marsupial lions” (though not related to lions), they had the strongest bite of any mammal species living or extinct. Its upper and lower incisors would stab. Premolars acted as shearing blades. Strong forelimbs and strong rear legs with padded toes were conducive to climbing. Retractable claws aided in climbing and tearing flesh from bone. These creatures, about the size of a modern tiger were quite vicious. Not the cuddly Koala found munching on eucalyptus leaves.

Climate change is said to have caused its extinction, lucky for the Aborigines and tourists, too!

Nancy Loyan Schuemann

Nancy Loyan Schuemann is a writer specializing in architecture, safes, profiles, histories and a multi-published fiction and non-fiction author and is Nailah, Middle Eastern dancer.

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