ALIEN BIG CAT of Australasia. Probably not a marsupial and similar but not identical to the leopard and puma, neither of which have been introduced on the continent.
Variant names: Briagolong tiger (Victoria), Brookton tiger (Western Australia), Cordering cougar (Western Australia), Emmaville panther (New South Wales), Jamberoo tiger (New South Wales), Kaiapoi tiger (New Zealand), Kangaroo Valley panther (New South Wales), Kingstown killer (New South Wales), Marulan tiger (New South Wales), Nightgrowler, Tal-long tiger (New South Wales), Tanjil terror (Victoria), Tantanoola tiger (South Australia), Tantawanglo tiger (New South Wales), Wari-alda cougar (New South Wales), WARRIGAL. Physical description: There seem to be two pri mary Australian varieties: about 60 percent of the incidents involve a jet-black, leopardlike cat, while the other 30 percent describe a light-brown felid resembling a North American puma. The leopardlike cat is a solid jet-black color, with powerful muscles; it is the size of a German shepherd dog or slightly larger. The pumalike cat is sandy-colored or fawn-gray; it is 3-4 feet long, with a tail of equal length and has a shoulder height of 2 feet 6 inches; white bands around the tail are occasionally seen. A maned variety has been reported in the Blue Mountains (Warrigal).
Behavior: Nocturnal. Most reports are of single animals, with only a few involving a female and cubs or an adult pair. Can run at great speed for long distances. Gives out terrifying howls and shrieks, especially at night. A solitary hunter, it kills sheep by biting the neck or choking them, unlike the messy kills of feral dogs or dingos. The sheep's internal organs and most of the bones (except the ribs) are often consumed, either by eating through a hole in the groin or peeling the entire skin back. Heavy carcasses are often moved elsewhere before being eaten. Dogs seem particularly terrified of them. Not afraid of humans or cars.
Tracks: Four-toed. Claw marks occasionally visible. Up to 5.5 inches in diameter. Some casts are said to closely match puma tracks. Leaves scratch marks in gum trees.
Distribution: Eastern New South Wales; western Victoria; southwestern Western Australia. Scattered reports elsewhere, including New Zealand.
Significant sightings: Tony Healy and Paul Cropper estimate they have collected more than 1,000 reports from 1885 to 1994 in every Australian state except Tasmania. Two photographs, both taken in Western Australia (by Barry Morris in 1978 and Alan Lawrence in 1982) only show silhouettes and are inconclusive.
A striped animal killed many sheep in the area around Tantanoola, South Australia, from 1893 to 1895, when an unusual-looking dog was killed. This stuffed and not very fearsome animal is still on display in the Tiger Hotel in Tantanoola. Descriptions of the beast were vague, and it's uncertain whether or not a THY-LACINE or big cat was involved.
A large, jet-black cat was seen prowling the hills around Jamberoo, New South Wales, in 1909.
A striped cat was held responsible for sheep killings in the area around Marulan and Tallong, New South Wales, between 1927 and 1930.
A big cat that could allegedly eat an adult sheep in one sitting was investigated by Fisheries and Game Officer Rod Estoppey near Briago-long, Victoria, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.
A large, black, leopardlike animal was reported around Emmaville in the New England area of New South Wales, from 1956 to 1962, with comebacks in 1969, 1973, and 1995. Some incidents were also reported in the region before World War II. Known as the Emmaville panther, it was held responsible for many nocturnal sheep killings. During 1956 and 1957, some 340 sheep were killed on a single ranch owned by Clive Berry. The case was declared solved on at least two occasions after the killing of a large black boar and an old hairless dingo, but the depredations continued.
An odd carnivore was responsible for killing many sheep near Brookton, Western Australia, for two years in the 1960s. Hunter Harry Butler shot it, and it turned out to be a beat-up and scalped dingo that had lost its tail and left deformed tracks.
In 1969 at Byaduk, Victoria, Les Rentsch watched a pumalike cat with a glistening, silver-gray coat for five to six minutes. It had two large upper fangs.
In September 1972, George Moir of Kulja, Western Australia, found several of his piglets dead, with their hearts torn out and their throats ripped open. He also watched two black animals with long tails rounding up his sheep. Moir and a game warden chased them for 5 miles but could not catch them.
A black panther was seen by thirty-two witnesses around Cambewarra Mountain, New South Wales, in June 1975. Leopardlike tracks were examined by retired naval officer Raymond Noakes, and cows, dogs, chickens, goats, and sheep were reported missing or mutilated.
A woman reported a large cat around July 10, 1977, in the Kaiapoi area, South Island, New zealand. Pawprints and droppings, but little else, were found on July 21 at Pines Beach.
A large, pumalike cat has been reported near Cordering, Western Australia, by many ranchers since 1977. It apparently could kill sheep with surgical precision. Many of them were not eaten, but those that were had their skins peeled back and the ribs stripped of all meat. Kangaroos were also found killed by puncture wounds to the head.
Peter Bruem observed a black, leopardlike cat and a brown, pumalike cat running together near Bendeela, New South Wales, in the summer of 1979. He waited in the shade to see whether they would return and they did, approaching within 100 yards.
A large, black, catlike animal was reported frequently in the Kangaroo Valley area, New South Wales, between 1968 and 1981. It gained particular notoriety when it killed a valuable pony near Budgong in June 1981. The case was declared "solved" twice, when a feral cat (in 1977) and melanistic wallaby (in 1981) were captured.
Norwegian zoologist Per Seglen encountered a dark, leopardlike animal near Badgingarra National Park, Western Australia, on August 21, 1982. It had a long, spotted or heavily striped tail.
Large brown or black, pumalike cats have been responsible for livestock depredations in the Grampians Mountain Range, Victoria, since the 1940s. Reports increased dramatically around 1969 and remained steady though the 1970s and 1980s. Rob Wallis saw a black, muscular cat near Moyston in August 1989 as it crossed the road in front of his vehicle. He estimated it was 8 feet long including the tail and weighed 250 pounds. He located its tracks the next morning and made a plaster cast of one clear track that resembled the print of a smallish puma, although claw marks were visible.
Present status: In 1987, the Victorian government added pumas to the list of predators that are known to attack livestock.
(1) Surviving Marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex), a leopard-sized, arboreal, carnivorous marsupial that lived as recently as 10,000 years ago. However, both its front and hind paws were fingerlike (with pseudoopposable thumbs bearing a huge claw) and designed for climbing trees, and they would not have left anything resembling cat tracks behind. Its dentition was odd—it lacked canine teeth, compensating with huge incisors and two pairs of bladelike carnassial teeth that made it look more like a fierce badger than a panther. Its shoulder height was in the neighborhood of 2 feet-2 feet 6 inches.
(2) Imported black Leopards (Panthera par-dus) that escaped from zoos or were brought as U.S. regimental mascots during World War II. Leopards are about 3 feet 6 inches-4 feet long, with a 2 feet 6 inch tail. They stand about 2 feet at the shoulder. Melanism in leopards is common in India and Southeast Asia. However, Australian big cat witnesses have never reported spots, which are visible in black specimens in bright daylight. Leopards are also not known for widespread slaughter of livestock—they generally kill only what they need to survive. Nor can they sustain a long-distance run. Also, black and tawny cats were being hunted in Victoria as long ago as the 1880s, long before World War II.
(3) Descendants of one or more Pumas (Puma concolor) supposedly brought as regimental mascots by U.S. forces during World War II or otherwise imported. The puma's coloration varies from sandy-brown to silver-gray, with a whitish belly. Melanistic pumas are virtually unknown. Its length is 3 feet 6 inches-4 feet 6 inches, with a 3 feet-3 feet 6 inch tail, tipped with dark brown. The average height at the shoulder is 2 feet 6 inches. Average weight is 80-200 pounds. Its eyes shine greenish-gold. These animals are excellent jumpers but cannot run long distances, and they are shy and elusive by nature. Some reports occurred in Australia prior to the 1940s.
(4) Dingos (Canis familiaris var. dingo), feral Australian dogs descended from early domesticated dogs brought to the continent by the Aborigines, are reddish-brown. They hunt larger animals in packs, not singly, and their kills are messy, with signs of a protracted struggle. Dingo tracks might be mistaken for cat tracks under poor conditions.
(5) A population of feral Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) that have grown large. Most ferals (except those in the Gibson and Simpson Deserts, which are said to be up to 3 feet long) are no bigger than house cats, however, and revert to a tabby pattern after a few generations in the wild. Adult pumas are seven times the weight of the heaviest recorded Australian feral.
(6) An unknown species of marsupial carnivore, suggested by Rex Gilroy.
(7) A mainland population of Tasmanian Devil could account for some of the smaller black animals, especially in Victoria. Sources: Sydney Bulletin, May 4, 1895, p. 24;
Gilbert Whitley, "Mystery Animals of Australia," Australian Museum Magazine 7 (1940): 132-139; Neville Bonney, The Tantanoola Tiger (Blackwood, S. Australia: Lynton, 1976); Bruce L. Owens, "The Strange Saga of the Emmaville Panther," Australian Outdoors and Fishing, April 1977, pp. 17-19; Paul Cropper, "The Panthers of Southern Australia," Fortean Times 32 (Summer 1980): 18-21; David O'Reilly, Savage Shadow: The Search for the Australian Cougar (Perth, W. Australia: Creative Research, 1981); Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats of the World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 222-230; Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia (Chippendale, N.S.W., Australia: Ironbark, 1994), pp. 57-97; Rex Gilroy, Mysterious Australia (Mapleton, Queensl., Australia: Nexus, 1995); Malcolm Smith, Bunyips and Bigfoots: In Search of Australia's Mystery Animals (Alexandria, N.S.W., Australia: Millennium Books, 1996), pp. 116-142.
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