Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Footprints in the Sand

     I am not a footprint aficionado. They are hard enough to interpret at the best of times. Perhaps I am being unfair, for they have their use in cryptozoology. Several times I have seen a photo or sketch of a print left by an alleged "tiger", and recognized it immediately as having been made by a big dog. But the reverse is not the case. Although I have been shown prints which certainly looked like they came from a big cat, in no case could I be sure that they had been made by such a creature. Robert Downing and Virginia Fifield, who had been following "cougar" reports from the eastern U.S. for years, claimed that anybody who wanted to be able to distinguish dog tracks from those of "cougars" needed to first of all examine several thousand tracks of dogs of different breeds, under different conditions.
     In the Queensland Museum, Dr Ralph Molnar once showed me a cast of a footprint that was beyond weird. It was long and thin, with a groove down the middle. But apart from a couple of small side claws, the truly astonishing feature was the pair of huge, central clawed digits which bent downwards at a vertical angle of almost 90 degrees. It was hard to see how any animal could walk that way. Yet the explanation was simple: it belonged to a wallaby. Wallabies and kangaroos do not always hop; over short distances they walk, the large hindfeet moving in unison, and the smaller forepaws being extended for support. Often, particularly over difficult terrain, the hindfeet are placed right next to each other. This is what happened in the above case, making it appear a single footprint, and the long central toe of each foot bent vertically down to gain purchase, because it was travelling through mud. I have also been caught out in another case, where a wallaby's combined hindfeet produced a composite, apparently single footprint. Moral of the story: the simple explanation is more likely to be the case.
     With this in mind, I'd like to share some clippings Dr Molnar gave me of The Brisbane Courier  of 1918. They refer to footprints discovered on Stradbroke Island, one of the large sand islands which guard the approach of Moreton Bay, east of Brisbane.

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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