Mystery Tasmanian tiger extinction likely caused by climate change

The enigmatic animal – also known as the thylacine – was once widespread across the vast country, but was wiped out on the mainland around 3,000 years ago.

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They survived in the southern island state of Tasmania until 1936 when the last known one died in captivity at Hobart Zoo after the species was hunted to extinction in the wild.

One previous theory on why the marsupials vanished from the mainland blamed the introduction by seafarers of wild dogs known as dingoes around 3,500 years ago. Dingoes have never lived in Tasmania.

Mythical creature

Another suggested hunting by Aborigines pressured the population of the dog-like animal with stripes on its back, which remains one of Australia’s most mythical creatures – with some believing they still survive today.

But a study published in the Journal of Biogeography this week, based on ancient DNA extracted from fossil bones and museum specimens, has now concluded their mainland extinction was likely triggered by drought.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) created the largest dataset of thylacine DNA to date with 51 new genome sequences and used it to track population sizes through time.

“The ancient DNA tells us that the mainland extinction was rapid, and not the result of intrinsic factors such as inbreeding or loss of genetic diversity,” said lead author Lauren White.

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Drought-prone seasons

A large and genetically diverse thylacine population lived in parts of southern Australia until three millennia ago, when more drought-prone seasons caused by the onset of the El Nino weather system likely wiped them out, the scientists found.

“We also found evidence of a population crash, reducing numbers and genetic diversity of thylacines, in Tasmania around the same time,” said ACAD deputy director Jeremy Austin.

“Tasmania would have been somewhat shielded from the warmer, drier climate because of its higher rainfall, but it appears that this population was also affected by the El Nino event before starting to recover.”

El Nino is a climate phenomenon that occurs every few years. Its most direct impacts are droughts in normally damp places in the western Pacific, such as parts of Australia, while drier places tend to suffer floods.

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Shares drive jump in Aussie millionaires

Soaring house prices in Sydney and Melbourne and strong share markets drove a significant increase in the number of wealthy Australians in 2016.

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The number of individuals with US$1 million in assets, excluding their home, rose from 234,000 to 255,000 in 2016, taking Australia to ninth on the list of the world’s largest high net worth populations, according to the latest Capgemini World Wealth Report.

Capgemini Australia banking and capital markets industry practice director Phil Gomm said property values surged, and there was a stronger sense of optimism in equity markets.

“A very significant proportion of their wealth can be attributed back to their equities investment portfolios,” he said.

“Money is now flowing back in to equity.”

Inhibitors to wealth creation included the fiscal deficit, high household debt and government debt levels hitting 45 per cent in 2016, Capgemini said.

“And of course the uncertainty around China’s economy impacting volatility around our commodity prices,” Mr Gomm said.

The number of wealthy individuals has grown globally, with Asia-Pacific the largest market.

Capgemini said the total number of high net worth individuals stands at 16.5 million, with a combined wealth of US$63.5 trillion.

“Its a pretty strong report card for Australia and there’s a sense of optimism that losses incurred during the GFC, where there was a swing back to cash and fixed income products, has been replaced by a move towards equities,” Mr Gomm said.

According to the report, 40 per cent of wealthy individuals in the Asia-Pacific region said their biggest driver of wealth was equities.

Globally, wealthy investors reported an impressive 24.3 per cent return from equity portfolios overseen by wealth managers.

“More than 90 per cent of high net worth individuals cited equities as the most important contributor to their investment performance, and I think that resonates very strongly in our own market,” Mr Gomm said.

No obvious signs of torture on American Otto Warmbier held by North Korea: coroner

The coroner said the 22-year-old, who had been sentenced to 15 years hard labor while visiting the reclusive country, had suffered brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain.

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Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco could not say what caused the injury. 

The revelations came a day after Warmbier’s parents and Trump accused the reclusive regime of torturing the young man, who had been convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel.

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The parents, in a series of TV interviews Tuesday, said their son showed signs of torture, including teeth that appeared to have been “rearranged,” and hands and feet that were disfigured. 

“They kidnapped Otto, they tortured him, they intentionally injured him. They are not victims, they are terrorists,” Fred Warmbier said on the program “Fox and Friends.”

After the airing of the interview, Trump for the first time accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s regime of torturing Warmbier. 

Trump called the parents’ interview with Fox “great” and said: “Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

But Sammarco, who examined Warmbier’s body after his death in June, said there was no clear evidence of physical torture – including no recently broken bones or damaged teeth. 

“We don’t know what happened to him. That’s the bottom line,” she said. “We’re never going to know, unless the people who were there come forward and say, ‘This is what happened to Otto.'”

Warmbier’s body displayed only a few small scars, all but one of which could be traced to medical instruments, she said, adding that the Warmbiers’ TV interviews had prompted her to publicly reveal her findings. 

“They’re grieving parents. I can’t really make comments on their perceptions,” she added. 

Three Americans accused of various crimes against the state are behind bars in the North, which is engaged in a tense standoff with the Trump administration over its banned missile and nuclear weapons programs.

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