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Humans made giant Tassie mammals extinct: stu -

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Humans made giant Tassie mammals extinct: study

The World Today - Tuesday, 12 August , 2008 12:50:00

Reporter: Donna Field

ELEANOR HALL: New Australian research has put humans back in the frame as the driving force behind
the extinction of giant mammals in Tasmania challenging the long-held theory that climate change
was responsible for their demise.

The scientists say they've discovered fossils from the giant animals in the north-west of the
island that prove the megafauna were still alive when humans crossed a land bridge from the
mainland. They say the logical conclusion is that the giant kangaroos and other prehistoric species
were hunted into extinction.

Donna Field reports.

DONNA FIELD: About 50,000 years ago large marsupials roamed mainland Australia. But 4,000 years
later they were gone.

TIM FLANNERY: But on this mountainous island to the south that we now know as Tasmania, seven
species survived. A giant sloth like creature with a short trunk, something you might want to call
a marsupial hippopotamus and various kinds of kangaroos including some short faced kangaroos that
ate leaves and one thing called a giant wallaby and this is the animal that we dated which had a
very long neck, a rather slender long necked creature that presumably reached up into bushes and
trees to feed.

DONNA FIELD: Professor Tim Flannery, from Macquarie University, has co-authored a new study showing
the megafauna survived longer in Tasmania than on the mainland. Climate change has long been blamed
for the creatures' extinction but Professor Flannery says this latest study puts humans in the
frame.

TIM FLANNERY: We've had a look at Victoria where the megafauna become extinct much earlier and
Tasmania. We have got the same climatic patterns across that region. So you know why is it that the
megafauna in Tasmania survived longer than they do in Victoria? The answer seems to be that people
didn't get there until Bass Strait dried up and a land bridge formed between Victoria and Tasmania
allowing them in.

DONNA FIELD: He says the conclusion is logical. The humans hunted the animals to extinction.

TIM FLANNERY: The new findings from Tasmania strongly support the view that it was human arrival
and most likely hunting that caused the extinction of the megafauna.

DONNA FIELD: And fellow researcher Professor Bert Roberts, from the University of Wollongong, says
it didn't take long for humans to assert their supremacy.

BERT ROBERTS: I think in Tasmania the whole show might have been over in a thousand years or so of
human arrival. It might have been a bit longer on the mainland but I think Tasmania's a really good
case for there being rapid extinction through human hunting and not through climate change at all.

DONNA FIELD: The new study backs Professor Flannery's long-held belief that prehistoric megafauna
in Australian was wiped out by people instead of climate change. Professor Roberts says all the
evidence gathered from fossils in Tasmania and previously on the mainland shows that the giant
creatures survived the weather but not man.

BERT ROBERTS: And what we find here on Tasmania, just like on the mainland is that there are lots
of species, yes they might have suffered through previous glacial inter-glacial cycles but they
always rebounded. It's only when people arrived on the island they didn't rebound from that effect.

DONNA FIELD: The study is being published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences of the USA. It's being heralded as an important part of the emerging global picture about
the timing of extinctions. But Professor Flannery says it won't convince everyone.

TIM FLANNERY: Oh look scientists will dispute anything, we are the world's great sceptics, that's
our job so there will be an ongoing discussion about it. But I think it's one more very compelling
piece of evidence that in fact it was humans rather than climate that caused the extinction of
these amazing creatures.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Tim Flannery from Macquarie University ending that report by Donna Field.