Over the years, besides my interest in NDEs and UFOs, I have kept an eye on the subject of animals turning up where they shouldn't be.
So, when I came across a new Australian book on "Australian Big Cats," I looked upon it as an opportunity to catch up with where research was on this topic. The full title of the book is "Australian Big cats:An Unnatural History of Panthers" by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang. Published by Strange Nation Publishing, Hazelbrook, NSW, Australia in 2010. ISBN 978-0-646-53007-9.
The introduction to the book tells us that Mike Williams "...is a Sydney based writer and researcher who has investigated strange phenomena and mystery animal sightings for the past 25 years." Rebecca Lang is a Sydney journalist, whose animal mystery work has appeared in such places as the UK Fortean Times magazine.
What is the subject of the book?
"For almost 150 years, sightings of strange, cat-like creatures have been reported and documented across Australia. While predominantly described as resembling jet-black panthers or sandy-coloured pumas and lions, spotted and striped large cats have also been reported since white settlement."
The book is filled with account after detailed account from individuals who report sighting unusual animals. These accounts span time and come from most states, with the top state being Victoria.
The lines of evidence pursued in the work are:
* carcasses of sheep, cattle, native animals and sometimes even domestic animals, which show evidence of death or attack other than by dogs, foxes etc
* Images-photographs, films and videos e.g. that filmed by Garry and Kerry Blount near Mudgee
* Prints in the ground e.g. John Patterson's from Ninety Mile beach in Victoria.
What do the authors conclude?
"The absence of physical evidence in many cases (but not all, as we have seen above) leaves plenty of room to argue that perhaps these cats are just figments or phantoms of the imagination..." (p.301.)
""We've even heard researchers discuss a paranormal element to big cat sightings , to account for the speed, stealth and uncatchable nature of these animals-but we can tell you that flesh and blood cats possess all of these attributes." (P.301.)
The 2005 Gippsland, Victoria shooting by Kurt Engel, of an animal which DNA testing revealed to be a large domestic style feral cat, which was 1.85m long "...threw up an altogether more frightening...scenario: Australian feral cats are busily super sizing..." (p.302.)
"That said, assessing the evidence from Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, we still believe exotic cats have also carved a niche for themselves in the Australian ecosystem. Our belief has been supported by the discovery of government paperwork on a scat and hair analysis on the Winchelsea cat hairs that came back as a possible melanistic leopard." (p.303.)
Where do they come from?
"The zoo/circus angle is perhaps the most credible of all potential origins. " (p.303.)
"And what of the marsupial lion, Thylacoleo Carnifex - could it still be roam the Australian bush? We're not 100% certain, but a distant marsupial relative might account for the profusion of 'Queensland Tiger' sightings." (P.304.)
Given my interest in the UFO phenomenon, with its conspiracy theories, alleged Government interference and the frailties of researchers, it was curious to see the same things were operating in the field of big cat research. For example;
Evidence disappears - David Pepper-Edwards was "the former senior specialist keeper of exotic cats at Toronga Zoo...sadly just before his retirement and shortly after a 'big cat' meeting of several representatives from various departments, the box containing some of the best documentary evidence to date went missing from his workplace." (pp43-44.) Similar things happened to vet Peter Brighton (p.171) and researcher Wally Davies (p.172.)
Suppressed reports- Dr Johannes Bauer, "...a wildlife ecologist from Charles Sturt University, who was engaged by the Department of Primary Industry in 1994 to look into sightings in the Hawkesbury area---After evaluating the evidence he concluded, "Difficult as it seems to accept the most likely explanation of the evidence of the presence of a large feline predator in the area."
His report to the Department was not publicly released and it was only after application was made under the Freedom of Information Act that the report surfaced." (p.44.)
Experts erring- "During this time the group also conducted a 'blind test' of several experts by sending leopold hair and scat...sure enough, after dispatching hair samples taken from a melanistic leopold...the results came back Felis Catus! The scat came back 'dog.' (p.34.)
This work follows on from the 1981work "Savage Shadow: the search for the Australian cougar" by journalist David O'Reilly, published by Creative research. Perth, WA. ISBN 0908469136; and "Out of the Shadows" by Paul Cropper and Tony Healy, published in 1994 by Ironbank/Pan Macmillan. Sydney. ISBN 978-0-33027-4999.
It is an excellent overview of the state of 'Australian big cat' research as at 2010. There are excellent footnotes of sources on many pages, and a good index. The book might have benefited from a bibliography, but that is only a minor point.
All in all, a great book for your bookshelf.