Big Cats In The Bush|ruby_lang|rebeccalang@ozemail.com.au|05/08/05 at 01:05:07|ruby_lang|xx|0|202.52.42.155 59.167.14.49|Big Cats In The Bush?

By Rebecca Lang

Australian Shooter Magazine, May 2005

Mike Williams has had a lifelong fascination with big game, but he says Australian hunters don't have to travel to the veldts of Africa to see the kings of cats in action. Williams, along with a growing number of zoologists and naturalists, believes big cats, most likely pumas and leopards, are roaming the Australian bush.

"Reports of big cats have been received from as far afield as Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria," he said. "In many instances, the sightings have been made by people who are experienced bushmen, farm­ers and naturalists. These are people who know the animals of the Australian bush."

Williams, a NSW SSAA member and keen pistol shooter, has been researching big cat activity around Australia for the past five years.

"Strange stock losses, attacks and unusual predation have been reported in many of the areas that frequently yield big cat sighting reports," he said. "Unusually large tracks have also been found around farm dams and other waterways, indicating the cat[s] are making themselves quite at home."

Williams has been collecting scats, spoor and hair samples from locations where the cats have been sighted for expert analysis and DNA testing. He has also been pho­tographing deep scratches on tree trunks consistent with a large animal climbing and clawing. The beasts themselves, however, have remained frustratingly elusive.

Despite several pieces of footage being shot, at a distance, of overly large black leopard-like cats in recent years - all quickly

bought by major television stations and dis­appearing from public circulation - nothing concrete has yet come to light.

"It's incredibly rare to see an animal such as a large cat," Williams points out. "For instance, there area puma hunters in the United States with something like 18 to 20 years' experience [who] have never seen their prey until their dogs have treed the cats."

In the 1980s, the Cordering region in Western Australia was a hotspot of big cat sightings, but unlike many other areas in Australia where jet-black cats are reported, these cats sported sandy-colored coats.

Seasoned 'roo hunters failed to bag any of the tawny-colored cats despite countless all­-night vigils using spotlights, star scopes and I high-powered .308 rifles.                        I

The sightings and stock losses continued for several years and inspired the writing of a book, Savage Shadow, by journalist David O'Reilly. His sleuthing also uncovered the earliest known sighting in WA, near Latham, 270km from Perth, dating back to 1950.

In Victoria, the Grampians mountain range has also been a popular spot for big cat sightings. So many reports were being logged in the 1970s that a Deakin University academic, Dr John Henry, conducted a study into the sightings and concluded that there were, in fact, big cats at large in the area.

Sheep carcasses were found on a narrow rock ledge 300m above the valley floor in the Geranium Springs Valley, in the Grampi­ans. US experts who analysed the evidence found that scat and spoor collected at the site matched that of a puma.

The reports, however, have not been con­fined to the mountain ranges. Last year a prize bull, a horse and several sheep were all savagely slain by a mystery predator as they grazed on various farms in Victoria's Packenham district.

The bull had most of its face torn off, the sheep were decapitated and the horse had its throat ripped out and was dragged for six metres across the paddock to the spot where its owner discovered it.

Most recently, in NSW on Sydney's fringe, sightings have been made in the Hawkes­bury, Kenthurst and Lithgow areas, keep­ing the Department of Agriculture and the National Parks and Wildlife Service on their toes.

So many reports have poured in from these areas that the Department of Agricul­ture has been forced to put up a page on its website to deal with sightings.

In one well-publicised case, a secured deer carcass three metres above the ground, left out as a bait for the mystery animal, was predated on by "an unknown animal capable of climbing a tree and holding on with claws, there were significant claw marks".

Dr Johannes Bauer, a respected academic who has years of experience in large cat sur­veys overseas, concluded in the same NSW government report that "difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation of the evidence...is the presence of a large feline predator".

A domestic cat killed in the Grose Vale area by something that crushed its thorax and then leapt about three metres onto the roof of the house left more than 50 prints that were "cat-like in form and leopard­ sized ... no evidence of nail marks associated I

with the prints. This excludes the possibility' that these prints were made by a dog."

Some of the more compelling local wit­nesses include a couple who once lived in South Africa and were familiar with large cats, and several individuals who had worked as large cat handlers in zoos - people who know their big cats.

"It's clear from the evidence collected above, by local people and government. employees, that there is a big cat operating in the lower Blue Mountains area," Williams said.

"Big cats are serious predators that repre­sent a real danger to the human populace ­just look at cases in the United States where cougars often attack hikers, or in Asia where people often fall prey to tigers and other large cats.

"If I didn't know better, I would think we'd stumbled into an episode of The X-Files, where a very real phenomena is being pur­posely discredited and trivialised so we, the general public, won't be any the wiser.

"It's only a matter of time before sheep, goats and horses drop off the menu and something larger takes the fancy of our newest feral anima!."

Theories abound as to how these kings of the cat world may have ended up in Aus­tralia. Some believe the cat in question is a relative of Thylacoleo carnifex, the native marsupial lion of the pleistocene era (about 1,600,000 years ago), which was believed to measure 1.5m in length and weigh about 120kg. The problem with that idea, how­ever, is that Aborigines have no record of such a creature, nor do our colonial fore­bears.

Others say that the cats are descen­dants of pumas, which were kept as pets by American gold miners, let loose and allowed to establish a breeding population in the Australian bush - an idea perpetu­ated by the many sightings around central Victoria's goldfields.

Feral cats have also been touted as a pos­sible source of the big cat sightings, but those who try to promote the idea that the pumas are in reality mutant felines forget that, genetically, it is impossible for a tabby­sized cat to turn into a leopard-sized beast ­even though feral cats can grow up to twice the size of their domestic counterparts. It should also be remembered that small ani­mals seem larger than they really are from a distance, however many of the sightings have been at close range.

Another popular story attributes the presence of the large, top-of-the-food-chain carnivores to careless US airmen who allegedly kept pumas as mascots, releasing them into the bush at the end of the war.

Crashed circus vehicles are another favoured source of the mysterious cats, but these stories, while seemingly more plau­sible, are invariably just as difficult to prove as any of the others.

A more realistic proposition, however, is that the animals were released by either private zoo owners who went bust, of which there have been many in recent years, or by individuals whose exotic 'pets' finally outgrew their enclosures and their feed­ing budgets. A male puma can reach up to 204m in length and weighs around 100kg. The average big cat requires at least 1.4kg of meat a day.

"If trained observers such as big cat handlers, naturalists, government wild­life employees, professional shooters and farmers cannot tell the difference between an unusual large exotic cat, a fox or a dog, there's something seriously wrong with human perception," Williams said.

To date, the government response to the big cat enigma has been unsatisfactory to many who live in areas of frequent activity. Bureaucratic channels have moved slowly in response to reports and government employees are now loath to put their names to comments in support of the evidence yielded so far, for fear of their jobs.

If the existence of big cats were to be acknowledged by government, Williams says, the ramifications would be staggering.

"I don't think anyone in a position of authority will believe a word of it until a corpse is brought forth," he said.

"In the meantime, don't think for a moment that the scariest thing you'll ever encounter in the bush is a 1O5kg pig. And if you do have a brush with a big cat, hope it's from a distance because you'll never hear it coming."

Williams is keen to hear from fellow shoot­ers and hunters who may have had a sight­ing, witnessed strange livestock predation or collected or photographed any unusual tracks, tree scratches or kills.





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||12/04/05 at 00:44:17|ruby_lang Re: Big Cats In The Bush|ruby_lang|rebeccalang@ozemail.com.au|12/04/05 at 00:43:48|ruby_lang|xx|0|59.167.14.49|*Several months ago Australian Shooter magazine ran an article about the widespread reports of big cats in the Australian bush in the past five decades. The response from readers to our first article has been overwhelming. Here we present some of our readers’ stories, including a story from the Victorian wilderness that big cat researcher Michael Williams says proves beyond a doubt that big cats are real.

The Cat’s In The Bag

By Rebecca Lang

A MELBOURNE shooter has captured the first tangible evidence that big cats are indeed roaming the Australian bush. This photograph of a carcass measuring 1850mm in length was taken shortly after the creature was shot.
Large, black and muscular, all that now remains of this feline behemoth is its sizeable tail, measuring a whopping 700mm. This was no domestic pussycat gone feral.
The man who bagged this catch of the century, hunter Kurt Engel, told Australian Shooter that he shot the large black cat during a routine deer hunting trip deep within the Victorian bush - location undisclosed.
While the cat’s head was unfortunately blown off by the sizeable 7mm bullet that tore through its mid-section – entering behind its left fore leg and exiting through its neck and jaw (a kill shot he often employs to dispatch large deer) – Engel was able to retrieve some of the carcass.
However, in a moment he now admits will haunt him forever, he chose to dispose of the headless carcass because “it was no good as a trophy”.
“I was travelling in the bush when I found a paw print - you see a lot of dingo, and I saw the print right in front of me. I had a look for toe nail marks but there were none so it was obvious to me it was a cat,” he said.
“I could feel this sensation going up the back of my head and neck and I knew there was a cat very close by - it was a cat, there was no doubt. I have been hunting for almost 50 years, so I knew it was a big cat. The track was fresh, probably under one hour. So I moved from the creek bed up on to the side of the hill in a flat spot ... maybe 10-15 minutes later I saw this big round face and I stopped and I looked at it and at that moment it got up and ran towards me.
“It was just a big, black cat.
”I took my rifle off and I ripped it up and through the scope I could see the face and the mouth half open, and the teeth with white whiskers and round eyes and half round ears and then it cut away to the left of me. I will never forget those round eyes.
“It was moving so fast that it was actually throwing up rubbish with its paws and its chest was nearly down on the ground.
“I had it in the scope by the second jump and I knew by the third jump, by the time it comes down to the ground, I am going to fire. So it came down, I fired, it rolled over two or three times and was just kicking a bit then when I walked up it was just lying there.
“I was really, really sorry I shot it because there was no head on it and there was nothing for a hunter.
”Then I started shaking like a leaf because in the back of my mind I had seen films of cats, and I thought ‘jeez, this is not a house cat, being over two metres long, this must be what people are talking about’. I was aware of the cat legend but I thought the talk about the big cats was bullshit.”
Engel did manage to shoot off some pictures with a disposable camera and cut off the creature’s tale before he disposed of the rest of the body - his unique hunting souvenir is now ensconced in a safety deposit box. The hunter’s biggest regret now is that he failed to keep the rest of the carcass as further proof.
He fed the remains of the body to eels in a nearby river, convinced it was worthless, but not before he managed to closely examine the feline.
“I played around with his paw,” Engel said. “It was half as big as my hand. I pressed the palm of the paw and the claws came out over one inch.”
He also noticed a particular pattern in the dark fur of the coat of the male animal, which leads NSW-based big cat researcher Michael Williams to believe that the cat was from the pantera genus, making it either a jaguar or a leopard.
Williams tracked down Engel via an Australian Shooter reader, at the same time inadvertently solving a mysterious and, as it turns out wide-of-the-mark, rumour that had been doing the rounds about photos of a big cat in someone’s freezer.
Williams, who is writing a book about Australian big cats, flew to Melbourne to see the photos and cat’s tail firsthand as soon as he heard about the discovery.
The researcher says he was “blown away” when he first saw the photograph of the big cat carcass strung up next to a caravan.
“I went into shock when I first saw the photograph of the carcass,” he admitted.
“It was just extraordinary. The combination of the photos, the tail, the story and the exceptional quality of the witness make this possibly the best case ever recorded of a big cat encounter in Australia.
“If Kurt had not been armed at the time of his encounter, he would almost definitely have come off second best.”
Engel’s story is one of more than 40 compelling sightings and encounters supplied by Australian Shooter readers since May 2005.
Reports and pictures from hunters have flooded in from Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, including this one from a Victorian farmer who wished to remain anonymous:
“I was driving up a track (if you could call it that) through the bush on our property looking for this missing cow in driving rain,” he said.
“The blue heeler dog was leading the way, as usual, about 30 feet in front of the car when all of a sudden he took off through the bush to my right. The rain had eased right off so I wound down the window to see where he'd gone.
“Before I could even whistle he was jumping in the window of the car, yelping and whining. I jumped out and saw the mother cow lying on her side about 30-40 metres in through the trees. As I slammed the door shut, I turned and saw it, a bloody huge cat sitting behind the cow. It stood up, glared at me for what was probably about three-to-four seconds and, without a sound, it took off through the bush. It was dark-grey, like a wet ‘roo, but with some ginger in it. It had a broad head, short legs, large shoulders, a long body and a long thick tail.
“I reckon its body was probably about 4.5 foot long and about 2-2.5 feet tall. After collecting myself, still shaking and hair still on end, I slowly approached the cow, which I could see was barely breathing. I noticed her dead calf (see photo) about two metres from her. The cow had a broken front leg, twisted hip and pinched nerve in her back and was in a terribly distressed state.
“The spooky thing is there was a total absence of any blood or other tissue around the site of the kill and the calf was missing a leg, which was cleanly removed from the ball joint without breakage. Its jaw was broken, its tongue missing, neck and back was broken and approximately half of the calf’s hide was also missing -not to mention its torso, which was opened up and virtually licked clean.
“I have found several dead ‘roos killed in a similar manner, in both deep gullies and open ground on the property - one was even decapitated. These were large kangaroos capable of high speeds and, once again, the necks and jaws were broken, torso opened up and licked clean and no signs of blood or the usual mess associated with a dog attack or fox kill.
“Now I've spent a lot of time in the bush and have seen all kinds of weird animals in places they weren't supposed to be, but I have never seen anything like this cat. Unlike all the stories I've been hearing from local farmers and other nut-jobs, this was not a so-called “black panther” nor do I believe it was a mountain lion - it was like some kind of bizarre hybrid. Judging by the length of the tail it couldn't be a typical “feral tabby” either - from the brief glimpse I got it seemed to have some marsupial-like attributes.”
Gordon Wright, a farmer from Alligator in Queensland, saw a large cat on his property following attacks on his dogs in 2003.
”Two of our dogs were attacked by dingoes, so I made a dog trap up which was placed next to Mount Elliot National Park,” he said. ”I placed a roadkill wallaby inside the trap, and every night I would wait with a spotlight and hope for the dingoes to return.
”I was sitting down there at about 10.30pm one night, and I heard a bit of a rustle in the grass so I thought ‘great, the dogs are back’ and I turned the spotlight on and I couldn’t believe my eyes - it was a monstrous black cat.
“My dog is a bull mastiff cross and the other dog is a pit bull and I thought ‘Christ, the cat is bigger than my dog’. His legs were as thick as my arms. It turned and looked at me, and I was in shock. All I had with me was a .22.
”His tail was as thick as my arm. His head was as big as my head, it was about 30 -40 metres away.”
Victorian Lee Collis had a close shave in 1993 during a fishing trip with his brother at Lake Tangtanga Reservoir near Kiandra in NSW.
”We were doing a bit of trout fishing at night,” he recalled.
“There was a four-foot drop to the riverbank, and as we reversed the car the lights picked up a big set of yellow eyes about 600 metres away. I said to my brother, ‘that’s a big feral up there’ and he agreed.
”I reversed a bit more, and this thing was now half way down, it had moved maybe 50-80 metres down towards the river bank. We looked at it again and put our rods out. I was a bit curious so I put a light on it and this set of eyes is now about 300 metres down the river, it’s coming sort of towards us. I said ‘no way I am winding my rod in’ and my brother said ‘oh, you’re weak as piss, it’s only a feral cat, you’ll be right’ and I said ‘bullshit, look at the size of it’.
“So I climbed into the car and I turned the lights on again and it’s 60 metres away now and still coming - and you could plainly see it was jet black and shiny with yellow eyes, and Neil leapt into the car and said ‘how big is that, it’s huge!’.
“I turned off the lights, started the cruiser and turned the lights back on and it was gone. As we left, the lights picked it up again and its head was higher than the tussock and we’ve gone: ‘it’s got to be a panther’ so we tried to run it over. We got to 8-10 metres and it’s leapt about 7 metres and we saw a big tail vanish into the night. It was bigger than a German Shepherd.
”I am never ever sleeping in a tent again.”
The stories have impressed Williams, who has been collecting evidence of big cat activity across Australia for the past five years. He hopes to include these accounts along with all of the other stories he has received so far in his forthcoming book. In the meantime, his dealings with government bureaucrats over the spate of big cat sightings continue to leave him frustrated.
“As a test we have sent scat and hair samples to government contractors that came from a leopard in a private zoo. The contractors identified the scats as being from a dog and the hairs as those of a domestic cat – it’s clear to us that the government is ill-equipped to deal with the big cat problem,” he said.
“So far we’ve been forced to fund our own DNA analysis and seek expert opinion abroad because nobody in Australia is willing to take this issue seriously.
“The bottom line is this: no matter what type of evidence we provide, cynics and bureaucrats can always suggest that it has been fabricated, the paradox being that government employees themselves never bother to collect samples or evidence. It’s a catch-22 situation for us.
“When we finally throw an intact corpse down in front of the authorities we’ll be accused of having obtained it from a private collector. They refuse to address the problem, because if they are forced to acknowledge there is a feral big cat problem in Australia then they will be expected to do something about it – and what can they possibly do?
“They can’t even manage the feral pigs, foxes, rabbits and domestic cats that run rampant in the bush now. They haven’t got a hope in hell when it comes to taking on a predator that sits at the top of the food chain.”
Williams is still collecting big cat reports and photographs and is keen to hear from anyone in Australia who may have had a sighting, witnessed strange livestock predation or collected or photographed any unusual tracks, tree scratches or animal kills.
He can be contacted on ozestrange@internode.on.net or 0416 303 371.

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