Unrivaled predator, leopard-size T. carnifex stalked open forest and shrubland in search of prey, which probably included newly arrived humans. The continent's largest mammalian carnivore, weighing up to 350 pounds and up to 30 inches tall at the shoulder, this hunter likely thrived as an ambush artist. Bursting from undergrowth, it could throttle much larger game, grasping its prey with dagger-sharp thumb claws and finishing it off with its large front teeth.
You will find the Naracoorte Caves in the pastoral wine country of South Australia, four hours from Adelaide on lonely roads heading toward what the Aussies call the Southern Ocean. The grapevines thrive in red soil that sits like a layer of icing on porous limestone. It's lovely country, but it can be treacherous. The ground is pocked with holes, many no wider than a café table, known as pitfall traps. They're deep. They plunge into the blackest of caverns. Pitfall traps have gobbled up many a kangaroo bounding through the night.
One day in 1969 a fledgling fossil hunter named Rod Wells came to Naracoorte to explore what was then known as Victoria Cave. It was an old tourist attraction, with steps and handrails and electric lights. But Wells and half a dozen colleagues ventured beyond the tourist section, clawing through dark, narrow passages. When they felt a suggestive breeze wafting from a pile of loose rubble, they knew there was a chamber beyond. Wells and one other slithered into the huge room. Its expansive floor of red soil was littered with strange objects. It took Wells a moment to realize what they were looking at. Bones: lots of bones. Pitfall-trap victims galore.
Victoria Fossil Cave, as the cavern is now known, warehouses the bones of something like 45,000 animals. Some of the oldest bones belonged to creatures far larger and more fearsome than any found today in Australia. They were the ancient Australian megafauna—huge animals that roamed the continent during the Pleistocene epoch.