Monday, 28 February 2011

Jennifer Parkhurst on Australian Story tonight

Why did a passion for dingo welfare drive one woman to break the law?
Featuring remarkable footage of the world's last pure pack of wild dogs on Fraser Island make this a must-see edition.
Tonight on Australian television, don't miss Australian Story, 'Hounded', screens Monday, February 28, 8.00pm on ABC1.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Help Blundstone Save the Tassie Devil

The good blokes and sheilas over at Blundstone, a proudly Tasmanian and Australian company, are doing their bit to help a little digger in trouble out.

Specifically, the company is kicking in $1, up to a maximum of $10,000, for everyone who passes on an ad for Blundstones via its website.

The ad features the cute (and for now cancer-free) Ozzie the Tasmanian Devil. Go to the Blundstone's website and click to share the video with as many people as you can. Every $1 helps!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tasmanian Tigers on display

One of the largest private collections of Tasmanian Tiger artefacts has gone on display at a Tasmanian museum, as reported a few months back on this blog.

Australian Geographic magazine this week has a great article and interviews with the curators of the collection.

The Thylacine has become an Australian icon since its extinction in the early 20th century at the hands of Tasmanian hunters. However, according to Dr Nic Haygarth, an historian at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, mystery and fear surrounded the thylacine in years past.

Mineral prospectors, for example, lived in fear of thylacines in the Tasmanian wilderness. "These guys were alone in the bush, during the 1850s to 1870s, when there was no infrastructure," Nic explains. "A thylacine could take their food, in which case they'd be in a desperate situation. But there was also genuine concern that a thylacine would kill, or bring its mate back and there would be two to deal with."

There were reports of instances in which thylacines followed people for extended periods, Nic says. In particular, he remembers the story of surveyor Selby Wilson who, in the 1890s, claimed he was followed for a full day by a thylacine. "He was completely freaked."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The ethics of hunting rare beasties

Associate Professor Gary Luck of Australia's Charles Sturt University has published an interesting opinion piece over at The Scientist about the ethics of hunting rare animals as part of ongoing conservation efforts.

"There are many examples where over-hunting has contributed to the decline or extinction of species. These include well-documented cases such as the passenger pigeon in the United States and the Tasmanian tiger in Australia, both hunted to extinction in the early 20th century, and the Arabian oryx, which disappeared from the wild as a result of recreational hunting in the 1970s, but has since recovered owing to reintroductions from captive stock.

"Hunting any species based on perceived risk is scientifically indefensible, especially if that species is endangered."

Monday, 21 February 2011

Mystery Animal series gets a plug in FT

The Fortean Times, courtesy of Dr Karl Shuker, recently reviewed three volumes of The Mystery Animals of the British Isles. He wrote:

"The British Isles boast a diversity of mystery beasts: alien big cats and loch monsters; bat-winged monkey birds and grave-desecrating earth hounds; mermaids and sea serpents; dragons and flying snakes; cockatrices and human-headed horse-men; Black Dogs and wulvers; master otters and horse-eels; and even the (very) odd Skye-inhabiting unicorn.

"Yet only a few of these, most notably Nessie, the dragons, and the Alien Big Cats (ABCs), have ever attracted any sizeable treatment in books. The rest have been allocated a few paragraphs here and there – until now, that is.

"The CFZ Press, publishing arm of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, has launched a monumental, multi-volume series entitled ‘Mystery Animals of the British Isles’, in which the cryptids and zooforms of each major county or region of Great Britain will receive comprehensive coverage by a writer from that area (and therefore presumably familiar with its local crypto-fauna). 

"There is also a volume documenting the monsters and mystery beasts of Ireland. Judging from the quality of the first three volumes, the series looks set to become the standard work on British mystery beasts."

Read the entire review at the Fortean Times website.

The series continues apace, with Neil Arnold presently writing Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Sussex.

More must-have tomes for the library!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

From the archives: Huge, hairy and hides in the bush! (1976)

Taxonomy fails - the infamous 'Cat Found' poster

Across the Internet, people have been finding cats. But these 'cats' are not cats of the Felis catus variety, but various cases of mistaken identity by the hapless do-gooding animal lovers seeking to re-home their charges. Or so this popular joke would have you believe!

Many Australians have already either seen the above posters pop up in their inboxes among their daily stream of joke emails, or spotted the images plastered on posters attached to electricity poles and traffic lights.

In the past few years the 'Cat Found' posters have become something of a phenomenon, popping up all over the world with variations on the theme.

The posters above show a native Australian possum, with the posters below show the North American Opossum. The picture at the bottom shows an English badger, and popped up in this post over at CFZ UK courtesy of Simon Reames this week.

We know some people who have had the distinct displeasure of having real possums fall down their chimneys or enter their homes via the roof space, and can vouch for the 'not house broken' line. To quote one 'experiencer': "I've never seen so much shit and piss in my life - it literally covered three bedrooms and the hallway. It must have been there for days but my housemate swore it had only been trapped inside for a few hours."

Lest you feel compelled to answer one of these appeals, you have been warned! :-)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Koala twins enjoy a lucky escape

Funny how with today's WWW you find out about things happening in your own country from the other side of the world, so it's just as well it's from CFZ HQ.

These cute twins, a rarity in Koala-dom, were saved after their mother was killed by a car.

Check out the beautiful photos from Jan Edwards over at CFZ UK.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Whittlesea resident finds big prints - of big cat?

THE discovery of large paw prints on a Humevale property in January 2010 has sparked speculation of panthers living in the Whittlesea bush, according to the Whittlesea Leader.

The indentations, about 100mm in diameter and resembling big cat prints, were found in the driveway of Colin Hill’s home, invigorating Whittlesea’s own big cat legend.

“There was a set of tracks at the bottom of the driveway that crossed the yard and disappeared down into the valley,” Mr Hill said last week. “They were definitely a cat print and were as big as my fist. Judging by the size, I’d say they had to belong to a 50-80kg animal.”

It was not the first time Mr Hill had come across such tracks.

“Before the bushfires, I found another set of tracks down near a dam on the next property,” he said. Those prints were photographed, but the pictures were destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires.

Mr Hill said they resembled the prints of a large cat with long claws. “The animal has used its claws to help lift itself out of the mud and the prints were unmistakable,” he said.

Two years ago, he shot and killed a small jet black animal with yellow eyes which he believed at the time to be a feral cat. Now he said it might have been a panther cub.

“At the time I didn’t even think about it, but I’ve never seen a cat with yellow eyes,” he said.

“After seeing the tracks, I wonder if it had been something else.”

Victorian big cat enthusiast John Turner said it was difficult to determine what had made the prints.

“They are interesting but not definitive,” he said, adding that they might have come from a large dog.

Mr Hill was convinced they were not from a dog.

Researching the trade in Thylacine specimens

Tasmanian Tiger authority Kathryn Medlock has been researching the 19th century records at the Australian Museum Archives - and has also found time to appear in a Japanese documentary (above) on the Thylacine.

Recently the carefully preserved administrative records of the Australian Museum revealed new information to Medlock, who is the Senior Curator Vertebrate Zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Kathryn (a PhD candidate at the Australian National University) spent a week researching in the Australian Museum Archives. Kathryn found valuable information amongst the museum’s 19th century correspondence, exchange schedules, photographs and published material.

She is examining the collection and trade of the infamous thylacine (often referred to as the “Tasmanian tiger”). Whilst Museums continue to collect natural history specimens they no longer “trade” specimens to build their collections. Kathryn’s research will help the Museum understand the development of this change in Museum science.

Vic Govt big cat hunt needs to be realistic

The Geelong Advertiser featured this piece by big cat researcher Simon Townsend this week, repeating the call for a more physical approach to the Victorian Givernment's investigation of big cat reports in that state:

THE enthusiasm which the new Victorian Government has displayed in honouring its election promise to investigate alleged big cat sightings and unexplained stock and wildlife killings is admirable.

However, it is not necessarily realistic to think a limited investigation will determine once and for all whether there was any truth behind the sightings (GA 29/1).

The only thing that will provide indisputable proof of what may be causing the killing of stock and of large wildlife will be a specimen and that may take some time, as I well know.

Photographs in this age of digital photography cannot be acceptable evidence.
My colleague John Turner and I have uncovered a number of attempted hoaxes of big cat photographic proof in the past.

The State Government is in a position to gather evidence utilising its own existing agriculture, wildlife and public lands staff and infrastructure.

It will also be offered voluntary help from some private researchers.

The government has the funds to conduct DNA testing on predator scats and kills to determine the species of predatory animals involved.

It can also supply and maintain appropriate wildlife cameras in areas of greatest stock killing activity to at least indicate what sort of undescribed predators are operating.

Specific strategies could then be adopted when a given species is tentatively identified.
For more information regarding mystery predators in western Victoria and their stock killing our website addresses these problems.

Whether compensation should be offered to farmers (GA 31/1) is problematic, since it is not given for other predator kills such as by foxes and wild dogs and dingos.

At the end of the day, the main thing is that Peter Ryan of the Nationals has honoured an election promise that the outgoing government did its best to ridicule.

Let us hope a specimen of whatever is taking sheep and adult kangaroos in the Eastern Otways is lodged in the State Museum soon.

* Simon Townsend lives at Freshwater Creek.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Victorian big cats investigation on Sunrise, Ch 7

More on the Victorian big cats saga...

Victorian big cat researcher Simon Townsend popped up on the Sunrise program today on Ch 7, where he put forward a very sensible case for a more hands-on approach in the Victorian State Government's investigation of big cat sightings.

As previously discussed on this blog, the government's approach to date has only involved looking at a few selected reports of sightings and predation in that state.

Here's hoping someone is listening!

Watch the segment here:

Monster croc Ian's master work

Apparently Ian can't be stuffed anymore. That was going to be our cheesy headline, but we've been ripping out a few too many taxidermy puns of late, so we'll play this one straight.

The NT News, one of Australia's most colourful newspapers, however couldn't resist a naughty headline for this interesting story about the impending retirement of taxidermist Ian Archibald, the man behind one of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory's most famous exhibits - 'Sweetheart', the monster croc: 'Sweetheart, Ian can't be stuffed'.

Apparently Ian hadn't been with the museum long in the early 1970s when he was charged with the job of preparing and mounting the 5.1m saltwater crocodile, which was caught in the Finniss River.

The outboard motor-crunching croc, a habit which swiftly brought about his demise, is pictured above getting the immortality treatment from Ian (pictured at the croc's head) and his colleagues. 

Good luck Ian. And yes, we're just using Ian's retirement as an excuse to show you a cool photo. I'm sure he would understand.

Alleged 'Tasmanian Tiger' skin in the news again

Yes, THAT pelt is once again in the news!

It seems that yet another biologist has aired his doubts over its authenticity as a Tasmanian Tiger skin, according to a San Diego newspaper.

UCSD biology professor J. David Archibald inspected the pelt last Wednesday and wrote in an e-mail that it appeared to be a zebra duiker, a small African antelope.

“While I cannot make any definitive assessment other than the pelt is genuine, I lean toward it being a zebra duiker based on the cumulative evidence,” Archibald wrote in the e-mail provided by its owner, Bill Warren.

“Even if this identification is correct, this is a threatened species, and the pelt might be valuable if it can be sold legally.”

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has denied Warren a permit to send the skin to a Sydney auction house. The department denied his request because he couldn’t prove the species of the pelt. It also questioned the age of the pelt, saying it looked too new to belong to the long-dead species.

Readers of this blog will already know our opinion of the skin and what has transpired thus far.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Government gooses chase big cat - with paper

It was inevitable really that the Victorian State Government 'big cat inquiry' would quickly slip into the farcical sideshow we're now privy to courtesy of articles in this week's Weekly Times and The Sunday Age.

The Liberal-National coalition, led by now Premier Peter Baillieu and his deputy Peter Ryan, were desperate for votes, and happy to promise the moon (where is it by the way, I think I saw it sitting in someone's back paddock?) to prospective voters, to claw back column inches in newspapers from their rivals and ultimately sway public opinion and win the 2010 state election.

So it was hardly surprising an investigation into the veracity of the legendary black panther would be thrown into the mix! Albeit somewhat riskily (did no one learn from Nathan Rees experience after he did the same thing right after he became NSW Premier? It was the start of a sudden slide right out of the top job, because he failed to establish his political credentials in other areas before tackling such a polarising issue).

Already Deputy Premier Peter Ryan has hand-balled the task to a disinterested (and perhaps faintly embarassed) Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh.
Certainly Walsh himself is too busy to devote much time to it.

This week his staff were clear about the Agriculture department's approach: ''We are conducting a limited investigation into the issue of big cats to determine once and for all if they exist.''
Elsewhere they were quoted as saying they had "already gone back and looked at the department's files on the issue."
"We won't be investing big dollars in this but we do think it is important and it will not be ignored," a spokeswoman said. "Without wanting to pre-empt the outcomes one way or another, we still do feel it is important to put the folklore to rest - one way or another.
"We will also ensure the question of whether or not big cats exist in Victoria is examined by people with the relevant skills."

So they've already looked at the files/reports - really? have you? several thousand reports dating back 150 years? methinks you might be fibbing there - and you're going to put the "folklore to rest".

Sounds like this is a fait accompli and the new government, and its obedient department, has already determined the hundreds of people who have reported seeing these animals (which includes departmental staff and zoologists) are deluding themselves with folklore i.e. bullshit, fantasy, make believe.

In other words they're liars (oh, but they're voters as well, so they can't be dismissed straight away).
What people need to understand about this situation is that there will be no 'investigation', not in the true sense of the word, not right now and perhaps not ever.

We know from media reports over the years that the department's network of doggers, who concern themselves with livestock attacks and wild dog reports, have already been gagged and told they must report all suspected 'big cat' sightings and livestock deaths as 'dog'. So already the reporting network has been tainted.

We know in NSW that staff from the Agriculture department in that state have had their jobs threatened - and for what? For admitting they too had seen these strange creatures firsthand, and believe 'something is out there'. Would it be so very different in Victoria?
The Victorian investigation in the third of its kind in Australia - the first was conducted in Western Australia in the last 1970s-early 1980s, the second was held by the NSW State Government in the 1990s (and briefly resuscitated in the '00s). Both of those inquiries were farcical and trod a similar path.

To WA's credit they at least dispatched a vet to investigate the livestock killings and sightings firsthand, even though he was a bit silly and insisted pigs were killing the sheep!
NSW, like Victoria, chose the path of paperwork, and refused to investigate any sightings that were not reported to them in the first instance.

The Victorian government has merely directed someone to spend a few hours flipping through the files.
It may seem like a small thing, but if government authorities are so entrenched in the mindset that hundreds of years of big cat sightings are rubbish and have already reached their conclusion before ever launching an investigation proper, it makes you wonder what else they're botching on a grand scale - infrastructure? amenities? health? - and why voters keep tolerating it.

But we don't want to be too negative - so how could they claw back some respectability?
Why not set aside some money for DNA testing? Engage a vet (not someone from the department, or already in the department's employ) to oversee the process, and speak with key people who have been involved with the collection of secondary evidence in Victoria, NSW, and WA. Set aside 6-12 months for the investigation. Leave no stone unturned. It really doesn't require as much manpower as they would have you believe.

It seems so simple, but reading a poorly compiled file on the subject is probably much easier and less painful. Shame.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Poor Sam the Koala - stuffed twice!

SAM the Koala has been immortalised alongside Phar Lap in the Melbourne Museum.

The Mirboo North marsupial shot to fame after an image of her drinking from local fire fighter David Tree’s water bottle was circulated around the world.

She died weeks after the Victorian bushfires, but the famous image helped lift spirits and raise money in the wake of the devastating summer bushfire of 2009.

A taxidermist has stuffed Sam’s body and placed it on a tree trunk, which will be displayed in the foyer of the museum.

Victoria’s Arts Minister Lynne Kosky was on hand to launch the new exhibit.

“The images of Sam and her rescuers came to define the wonderful spirit of community and friendship that is now helping Victoria rebuild – and I commend the people who worked so hard to care for her,” Ms Kosky said.

“It is fitting that Sam will have a permanent home in the Melbourne Museum where children and families will be able to visit her and learn about her story.”

Museum Victoria CEO,  J Patrick Greene, said for millions of people here in Australia and overseas, Sam the Koala represents the tragic impact of the summer 2009 bushfires on people’s lives.

“Sam became a symbol of the enormous loss felt by so many in the aftermath of last year’s terrible bushfires, and for this reason I believe it’s important that visitors from Victoria, across Australia and from overseas can see Sam and be reminded of her story and the events of Black Saturday,” Dr Greene said.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Big cat spotted at Olinda, Victoria

HILLS, Victoria resident Paul Czarnocki came across what he says was a large, black, cat-like creature on his run near the Olinda golf course recently.

“I've got no doubt that it was a panther,” he told the local newspaper.
“I could have sworn I was on safari in Africa, not in Australia.

“It was like a tiger or a cheetah. It had a huge head.”

Mr Czarnocki said it was a “surprise encounter” and “much like a UFO, I never expected to see it.”

He said the animal was about one-and-a-half metres long with a long tail – making it over two metres at full stretch.

“It jumped cross the road in one jump and disappeared in the bushes towards the golf course,” he said.

“When he jumped I had it in full view from no more than 30 to 40 metres away.
“It was quite an un-nerving experience.”

Pat Hogan from the Mt Dandenong Historical Society said the group had no documentation of panther sightings in the hills “but I have heard reports of them, mainly out the back of Monbulk.”

“If this is the same panther, it's been around a long, long time,” she said.

“I can't imagine what it might have been eating.”

Mr Czarnocki said he was eager to report his sighting “only because I'm worried such a huge wild animal being close to people frequently walking in that area is dangerous, especially to children.”

The new book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers documents sightings in the Dandenongs and the Olinda/Monbulk areas.

Queensland Cassowaries get flood aid

THE Queensland Government has started food drops for a lesser-known victim of Tropical Cyclone Yasi - a population of cassowaries near Mission Beach.

Far-north Queensland supermarkets have donated fruit not suitable for sale to supplement the rare birds' natural diet.

Last week's cyclone destroyed much of their normal food sources and government officers are also setting up feeding stations to ensure the surviving cassowaries have nourishment.

In more inaccessible areas however, they will use helicopters to drop fruit in, Environment Minister Kate Jones said.

"This will make a real difference for one of our unique animals in need," she said.

But Ms Jones warned people not to feed cassowaries, both for their own safety - as cassowaries can become aggressive - and so the birds don't become dependent on human feeding.

The cassowary is a large flightless bird native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. The Southern Cassowary is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu. Shy but aggressive when disturbed, cassowaries are capable of inflicting serious injuries to dogs and people.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Book review: Stolen World by Jennie Erin Smith

Recently at CFZ Australia HQ we took possession of this interesting new book by journalist Jennie Erin Smith - Stolen World - which deals with the worldwide trade in illegal animal smuggling.

It's an engrossing read and we knocked it over in three days!

The book profiles many of the colourful rogues associated with this evil trade, and highlights the links between these cold-blooded criminals and many of the world's leading zoos.

Many of these smugglers share the obsessive traits frequently attributed to cryptozoologists - a burning desire to obtain these animals, and a passion for the hunt - but their intentions are in no way noble.

Smith does a fine job of lifting the lid on the world of smuggling and skulduggery, after spending 10 years on the track of some of the world's biggest reptiles (and not the animal kind!).

You'll be appalled as you read it, but you'll also want to applaud the author's tenacity. A 10 out of 10, and a must for every naturalist's bookshelf.

Here be monsters - and sceptics

Last week's Melbourne Age newspaper ran this sceptical puff piece on the Victorian inquiry into big cats, where the blogger interviewed a zoologist, who specialises in lizards, about the possibility big cats could be living in Australia.
Re: "We should be finding footprints, fur and faeces, along with the odd sheep or kangaroo carcass stashed high up in the fork of a tree."

All of these things have been found in areas where large cats have been sighted in NSW and Victoria, and much further afield, and they've been documented extensively in the media and by government departments. 

In one case, a respected veterinarian found a kangaroo carcass up a tree on the outskirts of Sydney. The DSE in Victoria has collected suspected 'cat scat' and hair, and had it tested - the latter came back 'likely leopard'. Many unusual cat-like footprints have been in WA, Vic and NSW sporting the hallmark third lobe on the plantar pad.

Among the hundreds (yes, really!) of people who claim to have seen large black and brown cats in Australia, many of them have been farmers, hunters and Dept of Agriculture staff - with a few ex-pat South Africans and zoologists thrown in. Not all zoologists/biologists are sceptical of the likelihood of exotic cats (or large ferals) existing in Australia.

It's heartening to think a government department might seriously look into these reports, but once again - no real resources are being allocated to the investigation, so no one needs to worry about any money being wasted when it seems no money at all is really being spent!

Remember, this is the third state to hold an inquiry into these 'big cat' sightings in the past 30 years.

And nobody has got to the bottom of the mystery yet!

Government still on the 'tail' of big black cats

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Website rates CFZ Australia a top read

Top 45 Zoology and Zoo Blogs

Good to know someone out there thinks we're a good read.

Ashley Porter over at Veterinary Technician has counted us among the top 45 zoology-related blogs and websites on the net. Yay for us!

Heading the list is another CFZ friend, Dr Darren Naish with his excellent Tetrapod Zoology

Orange-bellied parrot headed the way of the Dodo

In today's edition of The Age, freelance writer Debbie Lustig writes about the precarious situation of Australia's endangered orange-bellied parrot.
"Birdwatchers have been wondering for some years when the worst would happen; when the last wild bird would die. That's why I jumped for joy on hearing the news that in the state's remote south-west at least 20 of the beautiful little birds have been breeding, producing 12 chicks, a sizeable number when the total population is a mere 50.

"The continued, precarious survival of this species is miraculous, considering what we have done to destroy its habitat. On the coast between South Australia's Coorong and Wilson's Prom, the birds were once common in winter. There are older people who remember them in the 1950s at Fishermans Bend on Melbourne's doorstep.

"Despite funding since the mid-1980s for a recovery plan for the orange-bellied parrot, despite occurring in several internationally listed wetlands, and despite listing under the 1999 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, this bird seems determined to decline. Among birders, some say the orange-bellied parrot is done for already. Among the scientists charged with saving it, no one works full-time on the bird..."

Read the full story here.


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