Sunday, 5 January 2014

More Big Black Cats in Southeast Queensland

     In my last post, I described sightings of what appear to be "black panthers" in southeast Queensland. They mostly involved witnesses I had interviewed by telephone. This time, it will be necessary only to quote the witnesses' own words from their detailed letters.
     We shall start with Toowoomba (27° 30' S, 151° 57' E), the large city on the top of the Great Dividing Range, just west of Brisbane. The letter was dated 26 March 1997, and it was originally addressed to another cryptozoologist, but I have since contacted the author. His name is Bruce Thomson, and his credentials are obvious.
     I am a senior conservation officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, based in Toowoomba and thought I might drop you a note to say that 'black panthers' are alive and kicking in these parts!!!!!
     There have been various reports of these animals over the last few years but the one that recently gained my interest was a sighting on the Toowoomba range (just below Toowoomba) in Feb. A large panther-like animal was seen by a local business man about 5.30 in the morning on the roadside. [This is about sunrise at that time of year.] The observer got to within about 30 m of the animal which was initially lying down near a road-killed animal (of unknown species) and stood up as the car approached. Later, the next day the sighting was reported to a Wildlife Ranger at Toowoomba (QNPWS) who went down to the site and found and photographed large footprints. I have seen tiger footprints in the forests of Sumatra where I spent some time photographing a few years ago. To my mind, the footprints photographed on the Toowoomba range are quite definitely feline. [See here for more details.]
     Following this sighting, I mentioned the incident to the Environmental Officer at Crows Nest Shire Council (approx. 45km Nth Toowoomba). Several days later he furnished me with the names and addresses of at least four other locals who had had experiences with this type of animal, including one who shot and killed a smaller (sub-adult) specimen. Unfortunately (as with all good potential records) the body was thrown on a bonfire during a clean-up of his paddocks.
     He then provides a profile of the animals reported.
  • Both black and brown colour forms occur in the general area - with brown animals more common in the western brigalow areas near Meandarra.
  • Adult maximum size is 2 ft tall at the shoulder and approx. 6 ft long. Most sightings however are of animals the size of an Alsatian (ie a little smaller).
  • Behavior tends to indicate that it is of the 'small cat' group rather than a member of the larger 'panthera' group. Small cats include the puma, bob cats and other smaller animals. They have a fixed hyoid bone in the throat that prevents them from roaring etc. The sitting and feeding stances also differ markedly from large cats. I have records of the vocalisations and sitting posture of this mystery animal which accord more with the small cat group.
  • All indications are that it is not a single animal but in fact a breeding population.
  • Many animals have been encountered when taking road killed wildlife from roads in the area. They obviously don't mind 'stale' meat.
  • No records of stock losses have been reported.
     I have now developed a remote camera system that can photograph both day and night for up to a month without attention and will be hopefully deploying two of these over the Easter weekend to start continuous observation at two points on the Toowoomba range which I feel are likely sports. My experiences in Indonesia confirmed that remote camera traps are the most reliable way of confirming the existence of large cats (both Leopards and Tigers). I have also contacted a friend in Indonesia who is an expert on camera trapping of big cats to gain some extra advice.
     Unfortunately, nothing appears to have come of it.


     Pechey (27° 18' S, 152° 1' E) is a small place about 35 km north of the centre of Toowoomba. The following is from a letter of 20 March 2001 from a Mr Graham Christoffel.
     [Your book] brings to mind an incident which occurred on the Easter weekend in 1967. I fully appreciate that time can distort memories, but I am confident that I can relate the incident with some accuracy. I was at the time a Queensland Police Cadet residing in the old Police Barracks at Petrie Terrace in Brisbane.
     He then describes staying at the Crows Nest home of a colleague called Fitch. His friend's father drove him and the four Fitch brothers, the youngest aged about twelve, to the Pechey area. They had guns, but did not use them, as they spent the afternoon fishing.
     Mr Fitch returned to pick us up after dark in his utility. There were the four Fitch brothers, their father and myself in the vehicle at the time.
     We were travelling along a narrow gravel road in hilly savannah type country when a large black animal crossing the road became illuminated in the headlights. It was about 20 metres in front of the vehicle. One of the Fitch brothers in the back had a spotlight and shone it on the animal as Mr Fitch stopped the vehicle. The animal was about 1.3 metres [4 ft 3 in] long in the body with a correspondingly long tail. The animal fled in a crouching run similar to that of a domestic cat being assailed by magpies.
     The animal had a small round head and small round ears which seemed to be held back. It was very sleek and lithe and covered the ground in a fluid motion. The boys and I loaded our rifles and got out of the vehicle. In doing so, the person holding the spotlight lost sight of the animal. There was a narrow gully to the front of us and this descended from a hill where the animal had disappeared. We stayed at the vehicle while one person stayed in the back of the ute with the spotlight. I believe this was the young lad. After a few minutes the spotlight was shone up the gully and immediately picked up the animal. It was coming down the gully towards us. The light appeared to startle the animal and it bounded up the side of the gully and proceeded up the hill at a very fast pace. It was jumping over a log when three of us fired simultaneously. The animal disappeared from view. We did not feel like going up the hill to see if we had killed the animal as its size and appearance were quite frightening. I remember how its eyes blazed in the spotlight. We then returned to town, but came back the next morning to look for it. The ground was hard and no tracks were visible. The log over which the animal jumped had been struck by two bullets. No blood was found and the creature had apparently made good its escape.
     It was distinctly cat like with no discernible long snout. It definitely was not a dog. This was witnessed by the 4 Fitch brothers, their father, and myself.
     Had I not seen the animal I would not have believed in its existence and would have scoffed at anyone who claimed a sighting.

     The next story comes from the Goodnight Scrub National Park, approximately 25° 20' S, 151° 52' E, in a letter from Mrs Sharn Boyd dated 11 January 1999.
     I would like to tell you about a mysterious animal my husband Brian saw while travelling alone through the Goodnight Scrub a few years ago. We live 26 kilometres from Biggenden in the parish of Coringa. We are a few kilometres from the Burnett River which we can ford in a four wheel drive vehicle when the river is low. This brings us into the Goodnight Scrub where Brian made his observation. I am including the notes he made about his sighting. ... I might add that Brian has excellent vision and is much more observant than I am.
     Brian's notes.
Late morning Goodnight Scrub.
The Goodnight Scrub was once managed by the Forestry Dept. but is now a National Park. It is predominantly hoop pine and very dense scrub.
When spotted; mind was racing, trying to identify .....
Wasn't a wallaby, should have been a dingo, but wasn't.
Colour: couldn't tell, in shadow, dry rain forest.
Walking across road, (not leaping) like a cat would walk.
Seen at a crossroad, up a side road.
Tail was extra long in comparison with body with a complete sweep up the back; like you would see on a jungle cat (which ruled out dingo/fox etc.)
Size: probably in dingo category, but not the long legs of a dingo. To put the size in the cat range, would say the size of the mountain lions which live in the Rocky Mountains.
Its walk was definitely a cat-like walk ie different from a dog and not like a wallaby down on four limbs.
I shot up the side road to see it and got out of my vehicle and went into the lantana to catch a glimpse but didn't see it again.

Bli Bli (26° 37' S, 153° 02' E). This report came from Tim Couchman, who interviewed the primary witness, Jimmy Attewell in person on 7 February 1999, and provided me with the results. I have deleted the names of the other people involved.  For those outside of the area, it should be explained that sugar cane is transported on a small gauge railway system.
Date: unknown, although he believes it was either 1994-1995.
Location: A cane farm belonging to RC, located near the Maroochy River in Bli Bli. The sighting occurred as the witness was driving a cane train through the property. The general area around here is quite populated, although there is some scattered bush.
Time: Approaching 1:00 a.m. in the morning, as the witness was on a midnight shift.
Weather: It was a clear night with no sign of rain or fog.
Narrative: The witness was on the midnight shift, taking empty cane bins to the siding located on RC's property. Just past this siding the tack bends to the left, and as the train rounded the bend a large black animal was illuminated in the spotlights. Both the witnesses, Jimmy Attewell, and his fireman, a certain MG saw the animal. It jumped across a drain to their right, landing on the tracks about 10 metres in front of the train, before leaping out of sight to the left of them. The tracks in this area are raised about 3 feet above drain level in this area, and the drain was located some distance away. The witness swears it jumped about 15 feet in order to land on the tracks. In his own words, a "bloody long way!" It was only in view for a few seconds, but it left both men awestruck, as "it wasn't something you'd expect to see".
Description: The witness described the animal as being a big black cat. It was about 2.5 - 3 ft. high and between 5 - 6 ft. long. The abnormally long length appears to have been caused by the animal being stretched out as it leapt through the air. The left side of the animal was in view as it passed in front of the train, and the witness emphasised its gracefulness several times.  He couldn't see the eyes or head clearly as it passed too quickly. However, he was able to see the tail, which he described as long and skinny. The animal in general was very sleek, and definitely not a dog, kangaroo, feral pig or moggy cat, all of which the witness is familiar with. He likened it to being "bigger than a black Labrador". He could give no estimate of its weight.
Comment: [by Mr Couchman] Even though it was only a very short sighting at night, the sincerity of the witness and the fact that two people saw the animal has convinced me the event occurred. Neither has anything to gain from publicity, and the incident went unreported due to fear of ridicule. Even as we were talking, the witness was quite animated when describing what happened.

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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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