Big cat cover-up?|Richard_F||02/18/05 at 00:15:54|richard_f|xx|0||Big cat cover-up?

Gail Knox
Thursday, 17 February 2005

DNA testing is the next stage in confirming or putting to rest "big cat" sightings across the Hawkesbury.

Genetic studies may be the only foolproof method after claims laboratory tests of panther droppings were unreliable.

Hazelbrook resident and amateur zoology enthusiast Mike Williams said whatever animal scats were being sent in to the experts, they were coming up with the same answer - that the droppings were from dogs.

To test this, he collected scats from a panther (a black leopard) in Bullens' Animal World at Warragamba and sent them off to two different laboratories for testing. One of the labs is among the preferred sites for State Government testing of such material. Both labs came back with the same result - a dog.

Mr Williams said he obtained permission from Animal World proprietor Brenton Bullen to obtain the scats, which were collected from the cage by one of Mr Bullen's cat handlers.

Mr Williams also sent fur collected from the same animal to a renowned expert's laboratory. This time the result was domestic cat.

"I can understand the fur result," he said. "Fur can be subjective... But with the scats, they had a stench of cat urine and gigantic fur balls with bones.

"For whatever reason, the experts used by the State Government are incapable of seeing the difference between felid (cat) and canid (dog).

"If they can't do the testing properly, the only thing that counts is DNA testing."

Mr Williams said he would like the State Government to have DNA testing done on the scats still held by Grose Vale resident Chris Coffey on whose property numerous panther sightings have been made.

"Is the State Government saying all the 150 witnesses to the panther (in the Hawkesbury district) are lying and all the evidence is garbage?" Mr Williams asked.

He said when Mr Bullen's cat handler saw photographs of alleged big cat faeces taken in Bowen Mountain, she immediately identified them as a jaguar's (a similar-looking big cat).

Hawkesbury Mayor Bart Bassett told The Gazette on Monday he would write again to the responsible authorities - the Department of Primary Industries and National Parks and Wildlife Service - to carry out DNA testing on the material still held by Mrs Coffey.

"We need to categorically rule in or out the existence of large cats in the national parks backing onto our local government boundary and private land," he said.

"There's huge tracts of forested land out there where these animals could be roaming and breeding for decades," Mayor Bassett said.

"We want people who see or hear things they think might be a large cat to continue contacting Council and not be concerned they'll be ridiculed. We need to keep a thorough database to keep lobbying the government over this issue."

At the time of going to press, The Gazette was awaiting response from the Department of Primary Industries regarding the reliability of panther test results, and if the government planned to carry out DNA testing.