Extinct Australian Megafauna


The Giant Short-faced Kangaroo (Procoptodon goliah)

Procoptodon goliah was a genus of giant short-faced kangaroo living in Australia during the Pleistocene epoch. Procoptodon goliah, the largest and most heavily built kangaroo that ever existed, stood up to 2.5 metres tall and weighed about 230 kilograms. In reality, it was likely not much taller than a large Red Kangaroo when standing upright (around 2-metres), however, would have appeared a lot heavier in build. It was distinctive from modern kangaroos with an unusually flat face with forward facing eyes. Fossils of giant short-faced kangaroos have been found in the Naracoorte Caves in South Australia, which are a rich source of fossil deposits.  They have also been found in Lake Menindee in New South Wales, Darling Downs in Queensland, and at many other sites across Australia.  (Procoptodon image 1: Gail Glasper with a model of the Giant Short-faced Kangaroo, in the Naracoorte Caves Visitors Centre, in South Australia).



Procoptodon goliah is known from a variety of habitats, and has been found throughout Australia, with the exception of the state of Tasmania. However, remains of this creature have been primarily found in semi-arid areas of South Australia and New South Wales. Like other marsupials, Procoptodon goliah would have given birth to tiny young which would have developed in the pouch, just as modern kangaroos. (Procoptodon image 2: Skeleton of Procoptodon goliah found in the world heritage listed Naracoorte Caves, in South Australia).




The Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex)

The Marsupial Lion, or Thylacoleo carnifex, is an extinct genus of carnivorous marsupials that once roamed the lands of Australia from the late Pliocene to the late Pleistocene, from approximately 1.6-million years ago until around 40,000 years ago. These creatures were the largest mammalian predators in Australia of that time. Their weight was approaching the weight of a small lion, however, many scientists now believe their behaviour may have been somewhat more like a modern day Leopard, rather than a Lion. The scientific name Thylacoleo carnifex, comes from thylakos - 'pouch', leo - 'lion', carnifex - 'murderer', or 'butcher'. (Image 1: This skeleton was discovered, and is on display, in the Naracoorte Caves, South Australia).


This animal was first described in the same year as Charles Darwin published his pioneering work entitled 'On the Origin of Species', first published on the 24th November 1859. It was described that year by the renowned British palaeontologist Richard Owen, after the first remains of Thylacoleo carnifex had been discovered by the explorer Major Thomas Mitchell in the 1830s. These fossil remains had been found by Mitchell and his party while exploring Wellington Cave in New South Wales. (Image 2: a robotic version of what Thylacoleo carnifex may have looked like on display, in the Naracoorte Caves Visitors Centre, South Australia).


This amazing creature was the largest marsupial predator that ever lived and kilo for kilo had the strongest bite of any mammal species living or extinct. Despite its strong bite it was limited to how wide it could open its mouth. Additionally the limb proportions of this creature suggest that it could not run fast, therefore, it may likely have been an ambush type predator more like a leopard. The average weight of this creature is thought to be around 100-130 kg. Whether it ever hunted humans is unknown and there is no evidence to suggest so, however, it was equipped with bolt-cutting teeth and a lethal flick-knife like thumb claw, which would have made it a formidable predator. (Image 3: a cast skeleton of Thylacoleo carnifex on display at the South Australian Museum as part of Palaeontology Week 2011)


The Diprotodon (Diprotodon optatum)

The Diprotodon, or the Giant Wombat, was the largest known marsupial that ever lived. The Diprotodon, or Diprotodon optatum became extinct 30,000-40,000 years ago. The first recorded Diprotodon remains, were discovered in a cave near Wellington in New South Wales, in the early 1830s by Major Thomas Mitchell, who sent them to England for study by the renowned British palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen, who is also responsible for naming the animal. Today hundreds of Diprotodont remains have been found in places like Lake Callabonna, South Australia and many other regions throughout Australia. (Diprotodon image 1: a model of what the creature may have looked like outside of the Naracoorte Caves Visitors Centre in South Australia)


The name Diprotodon means 'two forward teeth' and on average they would have been similar in size to a large African Hippopotamus. It is related to living marsupials such as the Koala and Wombat, and the discovery of footprints of the animal indicate that it was covered in hair somewhat similar to a Wombat. It was a herbivore and its large head contained 4 molars in each jaw, 3 pairs of upper incisors and one pair of lower incisors. Like other marsupials it would have had a pouch.  (Diprotodon image 2: a skull of a Diprotodon on display at the Coonabarabran Visitors Centre in New South Wales) 




Scientists are still somewhat divided to why and how these creatures and other Australian megafauna  became extinct, however, many lean towards the "blitzkrieg theory." The "blitzkrieg theory" proposes that human hunters killed and ate the diprotodonts, placing extra pressure on them, and causing them to become extinct. Examples of this have been shown overseas with the arrival of Homo sapiens in New Zealand and the extinction of the Moa, however, at this stage no smoking gun has been found. (Diprotodon image 3: the skeleton of a Diprotodon on display at the Coonabarabran Visitors Centre in the state of New South Wales, Australia)



Hewitt-Rich, Thomas, & Vickers-Rich, Patricia., 1999, Wildlife of Gondwana, Indiana University Press, Indiana.

Wroe, S., & Field, J., 2001, Mystery of Megafaunal Extinctions Remains, Australasian Science, 22 (8): 21-25.

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diprotodon (accessed on 30/03/11)

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procoptodon (accessed on 02/04/11)

URL: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Procoptodon-goliah  (accessed on 02/04/11)




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Updated 1st of February 2013