Friday, 13 June 2014

Big Cats in North Queensland

     As readers of this blog will be aware, the presence of Alien Big Cats, mostly black, is no longer confined to the southern states of Australia, but is fully established in southeast Queensland. (If you are new to the site, you may care to check my posts of June and December 2013, and January and April of this year.) I would like to be able to say that this disastrous spread of a mysterious invasive species is limited to the southeast, but that would be false. They are well and truly established in north Queensland, more than 1,200 km away. Let us have a look at a few cases.

Cowley, 1971.   The Northern Sun is a small circulation quarterly magazine catering for far north Queensland - roughly, those areas north of Townsville. Cowley is a small town not far south of Innisfail, at approximately 17° 42 S, 146° 03' E). I had previously written an article on the fabled "north Queensland tiger", and it provoked this response, published on page 2 of volume 14, no. 44 ie the October 1998 edition.
My Cat Experience

by Glenda Morris
     "The Mysterious Queensland Tiger" by Malcolm Smith, and "More on the Marsupial Tiger" by Colin Simpson, I found quite interesting.
     Those stories brought to mind an incident which occurred back in 1971. I never mentioned what I'd seen to anyone apart from my husband and close family, simply because I believed at the time people might have thought I 'was seeing things.'
     We (my family and I), had come down from Ravenshoe to visit one weekend with family, who were living at Silkwood. I had taken by daughter Julie (then 2 years) into Innisfail to see other relatives and it was quite late by the time we left to go back to Silkwood. My husband had stayed back at Silkwood with Uncle, catching up on news etc. It was dark by the time we reached Cowley, not far from Moresby. Anyhow, as we approached the bend near Cowley turnoff where there is a patch of thick scrub, my headlights on high beam shone on what was the biggest black cat I have ever seen in my life (apart from a zoo).
     It was sitting in an upright position with its left paw to its head seemingly preening itself. I noted how big its paw was and especially its head in comparison to a normal cat. Its head was the size of a dog, and at first that's what I thought it was. When the car approached, it turned its head and it was plain to see it was no dog. Its eyes gleamed in the light, and Julie who also saw it exclaimed, "Look at the big cat, mum!" "Yeah," I answered, "he is big!" and slowed the car to take a better look, naturally, as I couldn't believe my eyes. It was then the animal bounded across the road in full view of my headlights, and into the thick scrub. This animal had an unusually longer and straighter tail than any ordinary cat. I'll never forget it.
     On our way back to Ravenshoe the following day, during daylight, I even checked for rocks on the side of the road where it was seen, just to ease my conscience, that I hadn't made a mistake, but no! I recalled it did move. It 'bounded' across the road.
     Incidentally, there were a few houses close to the road then, just a small house on the left, where the people sold pawpaws, and a cane barracks.
Daintree, 1996 or 1997. A correspondent sent me a clipping from The Cairns Post of Saturday 29 November 1997, page 4.
     One Keeping Posted reader has a tale to tell of a strange sight he witnessed just north of Daintree earlier this year. It seems our man was driving the coastal road to Cooktown and was only about 10 km to 15 km north of Daintree when he saw a large, black cat cross the road and wander off into a paddock of overgrown lantana. Nothing too strange about that, except the creature was about the size of a panther. Stunned by what he had seen, our fellow stopped at a permanent camp and asked the occupants if they had ever seen a "big cat" in the region. The locals responded that the creature had been sighted from time to time but nobody knew what it was. Can anybody fill us in and help solve the mystery?
     Daintree, for those who don't know, is a very small village very far north, adjacent to the rainforest to which it bequeaths its name. Its co-ordinates are 16° 15' S, 145° 19' E. I phoned the newspaper and told them I would like to speak to the witness. They put it in the paper, and on 8 December 1997 he phoned me.
     His name was George Snow, the owner of an earthworking company. About a year and a half previously ie mid-1996, he had been driving his landrover on the main Daintree track. It was in the latter half of the morning, between 10 o'clock and noon. The road in that area was quite good, and the speed limit 100 kph [60 mph]. The vegetation was not rainforest, but moderately dense scrub with intermittent patches of lantana (an intrusive weed) 20 to 30 feet [6 to 9 metres] in diameter. On the other side of the track was open country, a more or less natural clearing with grass perhaps 10 inches [25 cm] high and the odd patch of lantana 4 or 5 feet [120 - 150 cm] high.
     Suddenly, much to his surprise, the cat crossed the road from the denser side to the open area, looking at him as it walked. The distance was no more than 50 yards, so the duration of the sighting could not have been very great. It was a "damn big cat" about 3 feet [90 cm] at the shoulder, or maybe a little less. It was very graceful, and black all over. It had a long tail with a slow droop to the ground. Upon questioning, he provided the additional information: there were no markings, the ears were not obvious, and so were probably small, and the face was fattish rather than long. It was definitely a cat, without the long jaw or head of a dog.

Millaa Millaa, 1974. This is the text of a letter from Trevor Walker, posted on 12 November 2002. He was aged 15 at the time of the sighting. Millaa Millaa is located at 17° 30' S, 145° 32' E.
     Here is my account of my encounter. It was the second Monday of the August holidays 1974. I was working for a timber cutter during the school holidays. It was outside Millaa Millaa on Middlebrook Rd. I was off on my own with a brush hook looking for trees marked by the forestry for felling, my boss was doing a crown up with forestry bloke in another direction.
     I walked off from the loading ramp for about an hour or less. I was walking in a small gully with a ridge about 3 metres high on my left and a but higher and steeper on my right.
     I heard a noise on my left and looked around and saw nothing and thought it was little fantail birds that make a noise on the scrub floor. I walked about another 10 paces and got an eerie feeling, looked to my left and saw what looked like a very large black cat. I didn't see its head, as it was behind a wait-a-while bush. It stood nearly as high as a dining table, had a very long tail rounded on the end and the hair met underneath and hung down a bit. It was skinny and I could see its shoulder blade and muscle movement on the R/H side. It was only about 15 - 20 yards away. It walked behind the wait-a-while which shouldn't have been big enough to hide it. It didn't come out the other side. I dropped the brush hook and climbed a palm tree that grows in the scrub. I climbed about 15 ft and looked around but couldn't see the cat anywhere.
     I climbed down in a hurry, picked up the hook and took about 10 minutes to get back to the ramp. I climbed on top of the log pile and waited until Gordon Baker came back with a snig. He was driving a timber jack (a sort of rubber tyred dozer). I told him and he started asking me questions: was it a cassowary? a tree climbing kangaroo? I said no, don't you believe me?
     He said, "I believe you all right; I saw the same thing in 1949. That's when all the stories of the 'Malaan Monster' started" (pronounced 'Malon').
     The timber cutter I was with said they left their saw etc. in the scrub one evening just on dusk when a series of loud roars frightened them and they just headed out for their vehicle. That was near the Johnstone Gorge. They thought it might have been a croc.
     My uncle saw one in his headlight in the 'Crater Scrub' between Atherton and Ravenshoe.
     His uncle's experience is mentioned further down in this post. I shall include Gordon Baker's testimony in a later post.  Mr Walker also added:
My father, John Walker was manager of Yungaburra saw mill in the seventies. A couple of forestry people came to look at [his] records as they were studying regrowth of areas that had been logged years ago. Dad asked them about the cat and they said they had seen evidence of a large cat but never seen the cat.
Ravenshoe, 1994, 1998. You will have seen a reference to this place in the previous account, because most of these places are close together. Its position is 17° 40' S, 145° 30' E. In a letter posted 22 July 1998 a local resident, Diane Slattery provided the following information:
     8 am. 4th April 1994, Bew Road Ravenshoe, out property was on the edge of the rainforest and I was going to check something in the paddock. The ground was moist from the usual rain and as I walked I watched the ground for snakes. I became aware of footprints on the ground that scared the hell out of me and I immediately did a 360 degrees audio and visual hoping that whatever made those prints was not watching me.
     After alerting the rest of the family we followed the prints. They came out of the rainforest within 100 meters of the house, went through our pig shed without disturbing the pigs, into my vegetable garden, turned around and went back exactly the way it came.
     She took plaster casts, and later the local zoologist took a number of measurements and sent the details to a track specialist in Melbourne. She was able to rule out certain species, but was not about to make a specific identification. I am pretty sure I know the identity of both zoologists. In any case, in response to my enquiries, Mrs Slattery wrote a second letter, explaining that:
     The plaster casts I have are of one animal, yet one print shows deep claw or nail prints and the other none. As you know, a dog shows claw or nail prints where a cat does not, and I feel I have very good print casts. The actual foot dimensions are 5½ inches by 4½ inches [14 cm x 11½ cm]. The largest dog foot in the world is the husky. These prints are bigger than that. They are also bigger than a panther's.
     She also said in her first letter:
We had a visitor several years later who worked with Joy Adamson in Africa. He got very excited when I showed him the plaster casts and said in his opinion it was a female lion that made something that size.
    Also, in her first letter:
    On another occasion I was with friends standing in the same place looking east with clear view for about 500 meters. We watched a large black animal walk across the paddock in clear view for about 70 meters. It was obviously a cat of some sort by the shape and walk, and for its size it had to be about the size of a small lion.
     Again, in response to my questions, she said that this happened in approximately 1998 ( ie the same year the letter was written) in mid-morning on a sunny day. At a distance of approximately 125 metres she had a
perfectly clear view. No grass, no trees etc. On the side of a hill facing us crossing left to right. We had cattle with calves and being used to seeing the calves, the size would be easy to estimate. Colour black, face short, ears rounded (definitely not pointed like a dog), gait ... cat, definitely not dog. Cat tail ... long, hung low just off ground, turned up at end. [She could tell it was a cat by its] shape, walk, size. I am 100% certain it was a cat, the size of a leopard or panther (thicker set than a cheetah and not as tall.) ...
    I spoke to a man who lives locally and he told me of a "cat as big as a Shetland pony" that cross the road in clear view one evening in close proximity to my sighting during the last few months.
Mt. Hypipamee Crater, 1996. I wouldn't like you to think that all the big cats in North Queensland are black. As in the southern states, some are of a uniform pale or sandy colour - generally referred to as "pumas" rather than "panthers". (I make no claim on these being the correct identifications.)
Mr A. B. Brotherton and Mrs J. M. Brotherton saw one of the latter near Mt. Hypipameee in 1996. The position of this geographic feature is 17° 25½' S, 145° 29' E, and it forms the apex of an acute triangle, the southern border of which is a line joining Ravenshoe and Millaa Millaa. (I told you all these sightings were close together.) Atherton is not far to the north of it. Mr Brotherton was, at the date of our correspondence, a 59 year old farmer, and had previously been a qualified Government photographer. He had a lifetime of close association with the bush, and particularly with highland scrub dingoes. Here is the text of his letter of 12 January 1999.
     My wife and I saw an animal not known to us. The place was approximately 25 km south from Atherton on Highway 1. The time about 12.30 a.m. mid to late autumn, three years ago. The situation is scrub (highland rainforest). The term "Crater" is the local term for Mt. Hypipamee.
     The animal we saw had a mass of approximately half as big again as an average dingo though the animal stood no higher. Its face was flat and short with wide eyes. Small roundish ears. It had thick straight forequarters with largish pads. The hindquarters appeared to be higher than the forequarters. It had a straight long tail with no discernible bushiness. The tail exited the body high on the rump. At first sight it was standing on the road watching us at about 10° off being straight on. The animal walked at about this line of direction towards us allowing us to view it at different angles at close range until we observed it almost from rear on as it disappeared over the edge of the road into the scrub.
     Its colour in the clear headlights of the car was tawny. From almost head on to right angles to us to almost rear on it had no other discernible colours. At the closest point the animal  would have been no further than 10 feet [3 metres] from us. The animal walked in such a manner as was feline. It showed no concern for us and our vehicle and walked at a leisurely pace.
     All this took place at such a speed as allowing me to follow a line of the animal with the headlights focused on it as it traversed across the road.

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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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