Cape York Cat|elliott_saunders|elliott@ellsweb.com|07/12/03 at 14:42:29|admin|xx|0|217.44.22.24|1/7/03 - http://www.news.com.uk

A frontier town is divided over whether a mysterious creature roaming Cape York is a puma, a Tassie Tiger or a tree-climbing kangaroo.

Rumours of an introduced puma-like big cat living near Cooktown, north of Cairns, have persisted for decades.

Like the panther said to lurk in bushland outside Sydney, there have been many sightings but no proof.

Some believe pumas were secretly brought to north Queensland as mascots then left behind by American World War II solders.

There is an unrelated theory, held by renowned Cape York artist Percy Trezise, that the region is also home to a native marsupial wolf or thylacine.

"A dingo didn't take Azaria Chamberlain," he told Outback Magazine in 2000. "It was a thylacine, a marsupial wolf - what we call a Tasmanian Tiger."

But Cooktown resident Ron Simpson said he and many other people have seen the famous marauding creature and are sure it is a big cat.

It was the kind of predatory feline not found on this continent (Australia's so-called "native cat" is the spotted-tailed quoll).

"I know what I saw," Mr Simpson said.

"What I saw was as big as a dingo and was of the feline family.

"It was graceful, beautiful."

Cooktown resident Joe Meaney also saw a puma-like creature leap across the road while driving into town with his wife several years ago.

"If I hadn't seen it I wouldn't have believed it, I would have thought it was just an old wives' tale," he said.

However, naturalist Rob Whiston from nearby Bloomfield, believes the mysterious animal is a tree-climbing kangaroo.

There are two species of tree kangaroo found in north Queensland, the small blackish-brown Lumholtz and the larger Bennett's.

"They have rounded ears, a hunched posture, they don't bound like other kangaroos and a beautiful tail is always streaming out behind them," he said.

"They really do look quite cat-like."

Tree kangaroo expert Roger Martin agrees.

"Some of the old tin scratchers have told me they have seen tigers around the bush," he said.

"Tree kangaroos are shy animals, they spend most of their time in the canopy and when people see them they don't know what they are."

But Mr Meaney said he had a Bennett's tree kangaroo as a pet when he was young and knows the difference between a kangaroo and a cat.||