Tall tails: why does the myth of exotic big cats prowling the Australian bush persist? | Wildlife

Scott Lansbury had his first encounter 25 years in the past. It was in the Victorian city of Higher Beaconsfield, near midnight, the place he and his brother noticed the animal strolling up the footpath throughout the highway from the place they lived.

“It was larger than any canine I’ve ever seen,” he remembers. “Larger than a labrador, larger than a [German] shepherd.”

Lansbury is satisfied the thriller animal, which he says was black and walked with a feline prowl, was a big cat. He says he has seen related animals a number of instances in the intervening years.

“I stored listening to different tales,” Lansbury says. So a decade in the past, he began a Fb group, Black panther sightings in Victoria, “kind of as a joke”. Since then, the group has grown to 36,000 individuals.


Members put up a combination of blurry photos and pictures, movies of big cats clearly taken in different nations, and avowed testimonies of private encounters.

“I have a look at each video that’s been posted on the group,” Lansbury says.

Sightings of mysterious cats in the wild – and accompanying reviews of unusual livestock deaths – will not be a brand new phenomenon. Giant felids have been rumoured to prowl the Australian bush for practically 200 years, says David Waldron, a folklorist and historian at Federation College.

The earliest reported phantom cat sighting Waldron has recognized was close to Adelaide, in 1836. A sailor mentioned he had discovered “a cat-like animal with orange fur, black stripes down its again and white tufted ears, looking for marsupial rats close to a physique of water”.

In the Nineties, panic erupted in the South Australian city of Tantanoola, when tales emerged of a predator stalking properties, terrifying farming canine and slaughtering sheep.

The exotic animal commerce was widespread in the late nineteenth century, Waldron says. Categorized adverts of the day supplied leopard and panther cubs on the market.

The Tantanoola tiger, because it turned recognized, was finally caught. The beast turned out to not be a felid, however a Eurasian wolf. Equally misplaced in the Australian bush, the wolf was hypothesised to have been a boat stowaway that survived a shipwreck off the coast. It was stuffed and stays on show at the Tantanoola resort.

In the final century, rumours of wild big cats have additionally been fuelled by tales of escaped circus animals akin to lions and tigers, and American troopers bringing exotic pets into the nation as army mascots.

In Victoria, sightings have been reported in Gippsland and the Grampians nationwide park, whereas in New South Wales there have been hundreds of reported sightings of big cats in the Blue Mountains – often known as the Blue Mountains panther or the Lithgow lion.

Final yr, a video of a black cat was captured on Sydney’s higher north shore by a college scholar, who described it as longer than 1m, “with a physique on ‘roids”.

A feral cat in outback Australia.
‘For those who see a [feral] home cat … your preliminary impression could be: gee, that’s a big animal.’ {Photograph}: Russotwins/Alamy

To the untrained eye, precisely estimating the measurement of an animal after a fleeting sighting is a tough job, says Peter Menkhorst, an ecologist at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Analysis in Melbourne.

Feral home cats – Felis catus – can sometimes attain spectacular sizes, and have been behind no less than some reported big cat sightings.


“For those who see a [feral] home cat that possibly weighs one thing like 10kg, which is about twice what most pet cats weigh … your preliminary impression could be: gee, that’s a big animal,” Menkhorst says.

In 2005, a deer hunter, Kurt Engel, shot useless what he believed to be a black panther close to Sale, in east Gippsland. He estimated the cat was about 1.5m lengthy. Engel stored the animal’s tail as a trophy, which was 60cm lengthy – roughly twice the size of an everyday home cat’s tail. Nevertheless, DNA testing later revealed the animal was really Felis catus, a big feral cat.

Insufficient proof

In 2012, a report commissioned by the Victorian authorities concluded that the obtainable proof was “insufficient to determine {that a} wild inhabitants of ‘big cats’ exists in Victoria”.

Menkhorst, who co-authored the report, says the possibilities of there being unknown big cats out in the Victorian wilderness is “minuscule”.

“Nobody has ever really introduced in a carcass or perhaps a half of one of these legendary beasts.”

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One piece of unexplained proof was a scat present in Winchelsea in 1991. Barbara Triggs, an knowledgeable in animal scats, recognized the faecal pattern as most probably belonging to a leopard, and remoted a number of hairs from the scat that she believed the animal could have inadvertently ingested whereas grooming itself.

Mitochondrial DNA in the hairs was examined in 2000, and the sequence was confirmed as belonging to a leopard, although the scientist who examined them mentioned he couldn’t rule out contamination.

“There’s lots of uncertainty round the origin of that scat,” Menkhorst says. “It’s very inconclusive.”

Menkhorst’s scepticism can be grounded in years of wildlife monitoring. “We’ve achieved actually tons of of 1000’s of what we name entice nights,” he says, the place digital camera traps that detect warmth and movement are set out in the bush to watch constantly for weeks at a time.

“We’ve taken thousands and thousands of photographs, actually, and we’ve acquired nothing we are able to’t clarify, every little thing from … dunnarts as much as dingoes. Tons of feral cats, no different species of cat,” he says. “Given the depth of fauna surveying we’ve achieved in Victoria in the final 50 years, it’s an nearly inconceivable factor that we might not have discovered [a big cat] if it did exist.”

‘It re-enchants the bush’

Waldron agrees. “I’m sceptical in that there’s merely inadequate proof as but,” he says. “There’s nothing inherently unsuitable with the concept, you’ve simply acquired to seek out constructive proof.”

Regardless of the lack of proof, big cats in the wild have continued to carry a sure enchantment.

“It re-enchants the bush, it makes it mysterious, magical,” Waldron says. He has joined big cat hunters out on monitoring jaunts at night time, listening for animal sounds utilizing directional microphones. “It’s fairly an thrilling and evocative factor to do.”

Unexplained livestock deaths could have a easy fairly than eerie rationalization, Waldron says. “At the coronary heart of these panics is normally inventory kills that look totally different to how they’re achieved usually by wild canine. When individuals have gotten into it forensically – as in the animal mutilation panics in US – what they discover causes it’s a number of predation on the identical carcass by totally different predators.”

A Twitch streamer by the title of Rainey Jay, who lives on the mid-north coast of NSW, has been fascinated for years by big cat tales and on-line teams devoted to them.

Although she is sceptical about their existence, she says there’s something “romantic about the complete notion that possibly there are nonetheless some big mysteries on the market for individuals to unravel”.

“You’ve acquired those who search for Bigfoot or aliens, however for big cats residing out in the wild, that does have one thing believable about it.”

The enchantment with the concept of big cats in the Australian wild “overshadows the downside that we’ve got with feral cats”, Jay says. Feral home cats, which cowl all however an estimated 0.2% of Australia, are each ecologically and economically damaging. It has been estimated that they kill 1m birds a day.

“That’s one thing I believe we should always have a look at extra,” she says.

Lansbury has little question he wasn’t mistaken that night time 25 years in the past, and desires others to maintain an open thoughts. “You may positively see why individuals don’t imagine in them,” he says. “You’ve acquired to see it to imagine it.”

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