Australia was home to many amazing beasts during the Pleistocene epoch. There were echidnas the size of sheep, lizards the size of crocodiles, wombats the size of hippos, giant flightless birds, and short-faced kangaroos that stood up to three metres tall. The thylacine was alive and flourishing. And then there was the “marsupial lion,” Thylacoleo carnifex, the largest carnivorous marsupial known to have existed. Around the size of a jaguar and equipped with vise-like jaws, powerful arms, and murderous thumb claws, it was probably more than capable of bringing down prey far larger than itself.
Thylacoleo is the second figure from Southlands Replicas. About 13.5 cm long and 6.5 cm tall, it’s posed with its mouth wide open, its right hind leg planted far back, and its right arm raised high and poised to inflict a most painful blow upon something. The main colour is dark brown that gradually fades to beige on the underbelly, light brown stripes, black for the claws, pads, and nostrils, yellow eyes, a muddy brown nose, pink mouth, yellowish teeth, and pink inside the ears for good measure. As with nearly all prehistoric mammals, no one knows for sure what Thylacoleo‘s colours really were, but this looks perfectly plausible. The inside of the mouth and the fur are beautifully sculpted, as is the underlying musculature. This is a rugged, savage-looking beast.
The marsupial lion possessed a number of unique physical characteristics which are all well-represented on this toy. The head features a short muzzle and a large, flattened nose. The mouth features extremely large upper and lower incisors, which is in stark contrast to the canines found in canids and felids. Also visible are the blade-shaped carnassial premolars, which would have functioned like giant scissors, and the large jaw muscles. Thylacoleo possessed the strongest bite of any mammal in proportion to its size; it could have chomped down on a victim with nearly the same force as a much larger African lion.
The Thylacoleo‘s arms are bulging with muscles and end in huge paws equipped with curved claws that would have been retractable in life. Largest and scariest of all are the thumb claws. Analysis of the limbs concluded that they were more suited for climbing than running, and claw marks found on cave walls show that the animal was a capable climber. Perhaps Thylacoleo hunted by lying in wait in trees and then pouncing on prey as they passed underneath. This has led to jokes that it was the basis for the “drop bear” legend. Some researchers surmise that it killed its victims by seizing them with its strong jaws and then slashing and stabbing away with thumb claws, while others claim the opposite: it held its victims with its claws and then used its jaws to crush the throat or the spine. Either way, it’d be a gruesome death.
Southlands Replicas has really knocked it out of the park with this figure. Intimidating appearance, excellent sculpting, appropriate colours, and quite, quite accurate. Thylacoleo has long been one of my favourite prehistoric mammals, but unlike Smilodon and the woolly mammoth, it has thus far not been popular with toy manufacturers, baffingly. Hence this toy is an even greater joy. I dearly hope to see a Procoptodon or a Diprotodon from Southlands Replicas in the future. Heads up, CollectA and Safari, you’ve got some new competition!