Monday, 11 March 2013

The Cryptids of Mount Tamborine

     I fell in love with Mount Tamborine as a very little boy - when my mother took me down the chasm walk (since closed), and I marvelled at my first sight of a rain forest. Mt Tamborine, at 27½° S, 153° 12' E, a short drive west of the Gold Coast in southeast Queensland, is a fragment of a huge volcanic shield. Crowned with a tourist mecca township on top, it is surrounded by a wide variety of habitats: from rain forest and eucalypt forests, down to pasture land in the valleys. Just the place, in fact, for a wide variety of animal life. And unofficial animal life as well - mysterious black "panthers", and one small, but very strange striped entity. At least, that was what was related to me by musician, Phil Manning in a letter mailed on 27 August 1998. I shall present the full text here,  with no changes except to shorten the names of third parties to their initials.
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     I have lived at Tamborine Mt. for 15 years, and having had [an] interest in such things, I thought to send you some "stories" having just read your book, "Bunyips and Bigfoots".
     I am a musician and often return to Tamborine late at night (or should I say early morning).

     1) My friend Paul Cheesman and I were driving half way up the Mountain when a black cat the size of a large dog (or so it seemed!) flew across the road in front of us - so fast I had my foot on the brake by the time it vanished - we both saw it.

     2) R. & L.B. (also musicians) saw the same thing run in front of their vehicle and run straight up an almost vertical cliff - once again a very fast sighting, but seen by both.

     3) Once when alone I thought I saw what looked like a huge possum on the side of the road and slowed down as a precaution - it seemed to bound a few yards, partly hidden by long grass, then sat watching. By this time I had stopped, backed up and angled the car lights towards it. I had a very quick view of it before it turned and vanished, but it had reflective eyes (as do cats and possums) and was very large across the head with rounded ears. I could only see that it was very dark, almost blue/black and was well silhouetted against the background of light grass - looked like this.
     It turned suddenly after a minute or so and vanished into the grass - These "maybe" sightings were within the last couple of years.

    4) A fellow named Vince (ex Vietnam vet and pretty normal bloke who I think would normally ridicule such things) told me he turned on the lights during a commotion at his home a year or two ago to find a huge black cat the size of a cattle dog was attacking his two domestic cats and his dog - apparently they were scratched up badly. The following night it returned and he saw it clearly and claims it was far too big to be a feral cat. Once again it was black.

     5) When I first moved here 15 years ago I walked out at night on to the back steps to be faced at the bottom by a huge animal I thought was a Rottweiler dog - all I saw were its eyes and huge fangs as it snarled at me - not really a growl but not like a cat either - my memory has faded on that sound. I got the fright of my life, but it turned and making a heavy sound like KLA-BOONK, KLABOONK (FIVE TIMES) disappeared into the long grass and undergrowth of what used to be an overgrown paddock next door. I paced it the next day, it was almost 24 metres to the boundary from the steps. To this day I have wondered whether a dog could clear that distance in only 5 seconds.

     6) Often returning late at night (from memory about late summer/autumn time) I would hear a strange growling noise in the paddock next door and never got to see anything. However, the dogs would always be dead quiet when this went on, and to this day I have noticed that certain nights (usually several in a row) the local dogs don't make a sound - quite different to when the dingos are around and there is a combination of howling and barking. Anyway, the next morning after the growling there would always be a large circular area of the paddock flattened as though something had rolled around in it - usually 5 to 6 metres across.

     7) R.C. (a retired National Parks and Wildlife Service fellow and born and bred here) told me that when an 18 or 19 year old, he was having tea opposite the North Tamborine State School site and he and those he was with heard a blood curdling scream that made them all sit up. They probably wrote it off as an owl or something, but the next day a cow was discovered, killed cleanly, and nothing but the heart, liver area eaten. Apparently, there were two others killed and eaten the same way further across the mountain the same night.

     8) The same fellow, R had a couple of American friends staying and they went on an early morning walk into the Palm Grove national Park. When they arrived back they said to R. "My, you have wonderful panthers here." To which R. replied "No we don't!" They went on to describe watching a huge black cat at the end of one of the bush walk tracks which they watched for a couple of minutes.

     9) Then of course is the old timer who walked around a corner of his property many years ago to come face to face with an 8 foot gorilla, which looked at him and he at it until it turned and vanished into the trees. At this point the farmer threw up and was overcome with fear.

     10) Now for a really interesting one. I was driving home across the Wongawallen crossings at the bottom of Tamborine Mt. late one night when a strange creature crossed quite slowly in front of me. I was able to stop before it went into the brush and saw it very well.
     It was bigger than a large possum, with a quite pointy nose and was walking in a stiff gait as if very on edge. It had a tail which was thicker at the end than where it joined the body and had distinct stripes running vertically across it rump and back. The stripes were very dark possibly black, and the background colour similar to a bandicoot or very light possum. Its legs were very short, and overall it looked like a gigantic bandicoot - really gigantic.
     I spoke to a naturalist friend and said I thought I must have seen a numbat, not knowing at the time they only live in a part of Western Australia.
     Apparently the same creature has been seen on Tamborine itself by a local businessman.
     We don't have a clue what this might be as it doesn't fit any of the normal "mystery" creatures, unless perhaps it actually was a striped possum. The way the tail stuck straight up and the way it walked suggested it was on a state of alert, and about to bolt.
     I have seen thylacines in museums and possibly sighted one in Tasmania twenty years ago, but this didn't seem dog like or cat like, and quite timid almost.
    Have you heard of similar creatures?

    Although the romantics of large cats is appealing I am somewhat of a sceptic, but would love at some time in my life to go hunting in the Grampians or some of those remote areas. I've spent some time in the bush and rainforest and like rough terrain plus a challenge.
    Oh yes, and I once saw a huge black cat bound through a ferny area on the side of a hill in the forest behind Coffs Harbour. It was not a kangaroo, and was incredibly flowing in its movements - that was a year or so ago and I must admit I am starting to not be surprised anymore. This was mid afternoon. This one was long and very sleek.

     The rest of the letter is a general discussion of mystery animals, unrelated to the above.
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Comments: Readers familiar with Australian mystery animals will be aware that the most commonly reported are "alien big cats", commonly interpreted as black panthers or (the paler variety) pumas. In 2005 Kurt Engel shot and photographed a black cat which he claimed to have a head body length of 4 ft 1 in ie at the lower size limit for an adult leopard. Although there are valid reasons to doubt that it was quite that large, there can be no doubt that it was much bigger than a normal feral cat. Nevertheless, that is what it was confirmed to be by both hair and DNA analysis.
     In their book, Australian Big Cats (2010), Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang provided measurements of other feral cats, backed up with the photos of skins, of feral cats which were smaller than the Engel specimen, but nevertheless extremely outsized. I think it can no longer be doubted that there are feral cats in Australia twice the size of their suburban cousins, as big as medium sized dogs or dingos. Why they should be black or, to a lesser extent, pale when the most common coat colour for feral cats is tabby remains a mystery.
     Most of the encounters recorded by Mr Manning are consistent with such feral cats: outsized, but not enormous. There are only two exceptions. No. 5 might really have been a Rottweiler. A kill such as no. 7 could only be made by a cat, but I doubt that a cat even the size of a blue cattle dog could kill a cow - although lynx have been known to kill deer. However, the report was second hand.
     As for no. 9, there is not much to be said for a second hand, anonymous story. I used to scoff at such tales, but I have since heard far too many plausible accounts of yowies to reject it.
     It was the final encounter that really intrigues me. I cannot for the life of me identify it. My first impulse would be to call it a numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) - if it were smaller, about 2,000 miles away, and its stripes were white instead of black. The numbat is a little termite eater with white dorsal stripes and a bushy tail, which is now confined to a few sites in south west Western Australia, although it was recorded in historic times as far east as western New South Wales. As for bandicoots, there are a number of species with broad, black dorsal stripes. They are uncommon, live in much drier areas much farther west, and are much smaller than the animal described. Also, they have long, tapering tails which are never held upright. As for large, striped possums, none are known.
     All in all, the last animal does not appear to fit any known species - or any alleged mystery animal. It is a reminder that cryptozoology is not always about the big and monstrous.
     Shortly after receiving the letter, I joined some friends on a trip to Mt Tamborine, and I told them about the black panthers. Would you believe? they didn't take it seriously.

Update:  On 13 October 1998, I was able to telephone Paul Cheesman, the co-witness in the first story. He was quite happy to tell his version and have his name quoted. He had seen a black panther three times, once by himself, once with L. B., and once with Phil Manning. In each case there was a full moon.
(1) The closest was a year before, when he was driving at night near Thunderbird Park, in an area of eucalypt and rain forest. The cat bounded across the road in three leaps. It was so close he nearly knocked it down. It was monochrome, and the size of a large cattle dog, bigger than a black dingo, and the general shape of a cat. He said it looked more like a giant house cat than an actual panther. He was adamant it looked nothing like a dog.
(2) He saw it in the company of Phil Manning a couple of months ago. This time, they were rounding the corner when the cat crossed the road. It turned and looked at them. Its head was cat-like, but it was not squarish. (I'm not certain what he meant by that.)
     These accounts speak for themselves. Ironically, I visited Tamborine Mountain the following weekend, and would have passed his house. The mountain is very rugged, and forested, with several small national parks.

4 comments:

  1. Thegreatsilence22 March 2013 01:18

    The last critter sounds like a larger, unknown relative of the numbat, something like an unknown marsupial anteater since it seems to show a long yet narrow muzzle.
    The third sighting makes me think of the Queensland tiger aka Thylacoleo. It's consistent with what Carl lentz described : a blue-grey-coated animal with a great strange head :
    http://www.coffscoastadvocate.com.au/news/tassie-tigers-sighted-northern-nsw/1282730/

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  2. Thank you for the reference. I think we can eliminate Thylacoleo from the identification of Carl Lentz's animal, as the latter possessed a number of features which could not be overlooked by a person skinning one. Firstly, it had diprotodont dentition, like a possum's or kangaroo. In other words, the only lower front teeth were two very large incisors. Also, the forepaw had a semi-opposable "thumb", while the inner two of the toes on the hind foot were fused together, as with a possum.
    Whether it was the legendary North Queensland tiger is another matter. The latter was traditionally described as having dark stripes. Mr Lentz's description is intriguing, but it left out features I would have preferred for a closer identification. Without further details, I would guess it was a very large, unusual dog.
    Carl Lentz also claimed to have seen a large crocodile in the Gold Coast region in 1934 (Gold Coast Bulletin 12 May 1965). He was a colourful character, and I heard his 100th birthday was a gala affair. He described sailing to Australia as a boy or young adult in the teeth of a storm so terrible that a sailor told him, "You'll remember this if you live to be 100."

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  3. Thegreatsilence26 March 2013 03:49

    Thanks for your feedback, that sailor was somehow a visionary, :). I realized that the animal shot by Lentz is a good match for the one photagraphed and discussed here by Darren Naish :
    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2010/08/18/rilla-martins-1964-photo/
    His reconstitution is pretty good, only the color scheme has been inverted.

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  4. Yes Carl Lentz's critter was probably a Mainland thylacine or something similar IMO, I think they were probably bigger than the ones found in Tasmania (Insular dwarfism), I was just mistaken because of the "Fangs" thing, which recalled me snakes and thus the particular dentition of a Thylacoleonid.

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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.

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