OZ BIG CAT FOOTAGE|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|03/21/07 at 12:07:27|richard_f|xx|0|86.147.98.33|Those of you interested in the whole Australian mega-cats issue may recall my discussion of the Lithgow footage, filmed in 2001 by Gail Pound and her husband Wayne on their camcorder. I first saw the footage at a 2006 conference where it was shown and discussed by Australian cryptozoologist Paul Cropper...

To remind you, here is what I said about the footage in that previous blog post...

We start with a daytime shot of a perfectly normal grey domestic cat, sat on a shrub-covered hillside near a stand of trees. Then the camera pans to the right. From behind the trees slowly emerges a big black cat, apparently more than twice the size of the grey domestic cat. Yet its head and face - which we can see in full detail - show without doubt that it is a domestic cat, with vertical pupils, pointed ears, and a dainty snout quite unlike the deeper snout of the large cats. Its shoulder blades appear proportionally big and overall it appears unusually muscular. The ordinary grey cat, sat not less than two metres away, is not in the least perturbed by the presence of this monster. I struggled to understand what I was seeing: was this some sort of trick using forced perspective?
Filmed in 2001 at Lithgow, New South Wales, by Gail Pound and her husband Wayne, the video has been the subject of a lot of discussion and controversy. So far as I can tell there is indeed general agreement that it really does show a monstrously large, black feral cat that some people estimate to be about 1.5 m long in total.

[img]http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/upload/2007/03/lithgow%201.jpg[/img]

When writing the article, the only image I could find was a single, poor-quality still. The good news is that much better quality stills, and part of the original footage, are now available online: all are accessible from Mike Williams' blog Australian Big Cats. The video alone can be viewed here on youtube. The bad news is that the footage is not the entire, unedited version. While it is clear that the cat is large, the part of the footage featuring the key object required to help judge its size - the 'normal' domestic cat - is missing. Dammit. As Mike notes on his blog, Bill Atkinson from the NSW Department of Primary Industries estimated the large cat's shoulder height at 50 cm based on the size of the adjacent tree (an average puma has a shoulder height of 60-70 cm; an average domestic cat has a shoulder height of 25-30 cm). Cat experts asked to view the footage have agreed that the large cat is two or three times the size of the ordinary domestic cat in the footage.

Since my mega-cats article was posted I've noted much discussion on some message boards about the validity or otherwise of the evidence. The idea that Felis cats might be reaching such enormous sizes is, of course, one that we should be very sceptical about, but as usual I'm bothered by the fact that some people are dismissing the evidence in unsatisfactory fashion. It's true that some of the photos - including two published in the previous article - don't clearly depict unusually large cats, but I don't think anyone really said that they did.

[img]
http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/upload/2007/03/lithgow%202.jpg[/img]

Yes, some photos do make some cats appear larger than they really are, but this doesn't apply in the case of the Lithgow footage, or the Dunkeld footage. The latter is the one where the cat walks close to a kangaroo. Some people noted that the scale is difficult to judge given that we don't know what sort of kangaroo we're seeing for scale. Well, it appears to be an adult Eastern grey Macropus giganteus, an animal that ordinarily stands over 1.5 m tall. As discussed previously, the Dunkeld cat does not - despite its size - seem to be a puma or leopard [adjacent pic of puma from here].

It remains appropriate to be sceptical about all of this given that all the data hasn't yet been released. I will remind interested parties, however, that scepticism is not the same thing as rejectionism. If you still doubt that, for example, the cat shot by Kurt Engel was really as big as he claims.. well, you should await future developments and keep an open mind (I'm speaking as someone with access to as-yet-unreleased information).

I'm now definitely going to be attending the Big Cats in Britain conference, happening at the end of this month in Hull, East Yorkshire.


||03/21/07 at 12:10:05|richard_f