Saturday, 30 April 2011

Latest episode of the CFZ's On The Track

The latest episode of the Centre for Fortean Zoology's On The Track is now online!

This monthly web show brings you the latest cryptozoological and monster hunting news from around the world.

The April episode includes:

  • CFZ in Spring
  • Burrowing owls
  • Turkey vultures
  • Giant raptor
  • Great bustards
  • Monster of Llangorse lake
  • Roman pond crocodile revisited
  • The Pike experiment
  • Woolsery butterfly experiment
  • Corinna looks at out of place birds
  • New and Rediscovered: New nudibranch
  • New and Rediscovered: New fish
  • New and Rediscovered: Singalese elephants

Saving the Tasmanian Devil

European settlers in the 19th century heard the Tasmanian Devil's signature shrieks and saddled the animal with its unsympathetic name. Bounty hunters captured and poisoned the devils, natural scavengers, into near-extinction in the erroneous belief that they were attacking livestock.

Today the seldom seen marsupial is fighting to survive a fatal disease decimating its species. The affliction is straight out of a sci-fi film: Tumours sprout around the devil's mouth, quickly morphing into bulbous red pustules that eventually take over the animal's entire face, leaving it unable to eat or drink.

The disease had all the characteristics of a virus. But last year geneticists made a sobering discovery: Devil facial tumour disease, or DFTD, was no virus but a highly infectious cancer — one of only three communicable cancers known to medicine. That breakthrough piqued the interest of scientists.

In other news, philanthropist Jan Cameron has opened an enclosed sanctuary for Tasmanian devils on Tasmania's East Coast.

Ms Cameron has donated the 24ha site at Flacks Rd, near Coles Bay. The area was home to a big devil population before an outbreak of devil facial tumour disease.

Another enclosed area near Bridport, donated by Scott Bell, has also been officially opened.

Ms Cameron and Dr Bell donated the land to the Save the Tasmanian Devil program so the devils could roam free in enclosed areas that protect them from getting in contact with diseased devils.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Are there big cats in Australia?

Australian naturalist Gary Opit has been a wildlife consultant for ABC Radio for more than 10 years, and has written about all manner of animals - including ones that aren't supposed to be here!

Here is an article Gary wrote a few years ago about the existence of Australian Big Cats, which features on the ABC's website. Gary believes pumas roam Australia's wilds - what do you think?

"One of the great mysteries of the Australian bush concerns the reported sightings of big cats usually described as pumas or black panthers.

"In north-eastern NSW stories of the "Tyagarah Lion" have been passed down over the years. Local resident David saw one bounding along the side of the road and reported to me, "This was along the Old Tyagarah Straight in about 1979, and I' ve never forgotten it."

"Neil saw an animal that he could not identify in June 2003 while driving to Rosebank from Clunes at 8.30 pm. Two km to the south-west of the general store he and a friend saw in the car headlights an unusual animal cross the road 6 to 12 metres in front of them. It had a feline-like face and a long body and tail, from snout to tail tip at least one and a half metre in length, covered with yellow tawney fur.

"There have been over one thousand reports of sightings in every state received by researchers, several have been photographed or videoed and at least two have been shot. Retired businessman Dale O'Sullivan unveiled to the media a stuffed puma in October 2003, which he said was shot by his father at their Woodend cattle stud property in Victoria the 1960s. The puma was stuffed and stored in a back room and forgotten about for nearly half a century.

"When I was down in the Grampians in Victoria 1982, I was surprised to find that most of the forestry workers, the Hamilton Mayor, the Superintendent and some of the staff of the Hamilton Water Trust had all had close encounters with brown and black pumas. Farmers showed me photos of sheep carcases hanging in gum trees or lying on the ground stripped of flesh. The only problem is that black pumas are unknown as specimens in museums or zoos. However, there have been many unconfirmed sightings of black pumas in North America. It is possible that if pumas are reduced to very few individuals then the inbreeding will produce a melanistic colour phase.

"Reports have been received from Australian military personal at bases across the nation during WWII that pumas were kept at several bases and that US airmen used a compartment in Vultee Vengeance dive bombers to smuggle the cats into Australia. Brown and black pumas have been regularly sighted at Cordering in south-west Western Australia, Darwin, Cape York, the New England Tablelands, the Blue Mountains near Sydney and in Gippsland.

"Mr Kurt Engel, a 67-year-old retired engineer of Noble Park, Victoria shot a panther-sized black cat while hunting deer in rugged terrain near Sale, Gippsland in June 2003. "He came straight towards me. I saw his teeth and white eyes. I was only about 80 yards away. I pulled up the rifle and at that moment it turned to the left. He was making long jumps. On about the third jump I shot him. The bullet entered behind the cat's shoulder and blew its head off," he said.

"In November 2003 a NSW State Government inquiry found it is "more likely than not" a colony of "big cats" is roaming Sydney's outskirts and beyond. The revelations were the result of a four-month investigation into the "black panther phenomenon" which for years has plagued residents across Sydney's west, north-west, Richmond, the Blue Mountains and Lithgow. While National Parks and Wildlife officials are yet to implement a positive course of action, a senior source confirmed a big cat expert had been contacted with a view to future work.

"In May 2001, a successful Freedom of Information request revealed the NSW Government had been maintaining a secret file on the creature. It also revealed wildlife hierarchy were so concerned about the potential threat to humans that they commissioned big cat expert Dr Johannes Bauer to evaluate what had previously been deemed unthinkable. He concluded: "Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation of the evidence... is the presence of a large feline predator."

"When Kenthurst teenager Luke Walker suffered deep cuts in March 2003 and said they were the result of a terrifying struggle with a panther-like cat, the NSW Government reopened the case. A report compiled by NSW Agriculture included a review of sightings and extensive interviews with residents of Grose Vale, where the creature has frequently been sighted. It found that recent witnesses to big cat activity in NSW were highly credible.

"Also taken into consideration was a previous report by Dr Keith Hart, district veterinarian of the Moss Vale Rural Lands Protection Board, who, after testing scat samples, concluded a large cat was living in the Grose Vale area. The report said, "Nothing found in this review conclusively proves the presence of free-ranging exotic large cats in NSW, but this cannot be discounted and seems more likely than not on available evidence."

"One theory the report refused to dismiss was that "historically, sightings in Eastern Australia occur in old gold mining areas and that anecdotal evidence suggests pumas (Puma concolor) were brought to Australia by American goldminers in the 1850s. The report added, "These animals may have subsequently escaped or were released, causing numerous sightings over many years."

"It seems unlikely that any of these animals are black panthers, which are a melanistic colour phase of the leopard. It is more likely that we have American mountain lions running wild and perhaps giant black feral cats as well. It looks like there really is a breeding population of big cats now stalking the Australian bush."

Birds taking over Sydney

Large colonies of the white, long-beaked native ibis stalk the garbage bins of Sydney, flocks of native cockatoos chew away at timber structures and Australian Noisy Miner birds are, well ... noisy. Sydney is under siege - from The Birds!

"The white ibis is pretty common around schoolyards and teachers have to train the kids how to stand up against the bird," says dedicated bird watcher Mark David. "Ibis routinely run up to them and snatch their lunch."

Last month in Brisbane, a law student was ordered to undertake 120 hours of community service after he struggled over his sandwich with an ibis and eventually stomped the animal to death.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Meet the Cryptozoologist: Matt Bille

The second guest in our new Meet the Cryptozoologist series is well-known American author Matt Bille.

Welcome Matt!

How did you first get involved in researching strange and mysterious creatures?
I've been interested in zoology and cryptozoology since I did a great deal of wildlife reading as a child.

What were some of the early influences in your life?
Some books were important - A Modern Look at Monsters, by Daniel Cohen, was the first crypto book I ever read. Then Ivan Sanderson, Abominable Snowmen.

Have you personally seen one of these creatures?

What creatures particularly interest you?
I have a special interest in the "less famous ones" - animals like Africa's spotted lion, the marozi.

What cryptids are most likely to exist in your opinion?
I would bet money that we will discover the Orang-pendek of Sumatra and at least one elongated marine animal incorrectly called a "sea serpent."

What’s your favourite?
My favorite is the giant fish or fishlike animal reported from Alaska's Lake Iliamna. While it may not be a new species (most likely, a new population of the white sturgeon), it is a case where long-running reports by indigenous people and the slow accumulation of modern evidence will likely lead to finding a very large animal.

What’s your favourite Australian cryptid?
Two - the thylacine (it may be extinct now, but I think it survived until very recently both in Tasmania and on the mainland) and the Queensland Tiger-cat, which may also be recently extinct.

Have you developed any theories around where the more unusual animals - i.e. yowies/bigfoot - have come from?If the yowie exists, I have no explanation for it at all. There are fossil primates which may have been ancestral, and may have gotten to North America via land bridge, but Australia is a puzzle. I think the "sea serpent" will prove a huge eel or eel-like fish.

Have you written any books/articles?
Numerous articles and two books on cryptozoology: Rumors of Existence (1995) and Shadows of Existence (2006), both from Hancock House.

Do you have a website?

How many mystery animal reports would you receive a year?
Only a few directly. My role in this field is that of a researcher who tries to collect reports and other data from all sources and present it in a scientific way that the general public will understand.

What’s the closest you’ve personally come to finding something?
I regret to say none.

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to go ‘in search of’ mystery animals?
I've not. I'm not a field researcher.

What’s next for you - any trips planned? Books or articles to write? Talks to give?I intend to do one book in the same format - analyzing reports of newly discovered animals, maybe-extinct animals, and unconfirmed animals - every decade for the rest of my life.

Could you share some of your favourite cryptozoology book titles with us? 
Rupert T. Gould's The Case for the Sea Serpent is a favorite. So is Karl Shuker's Mystery Cats of the World and The New Zoo. Willy Ley's Exotic Zoology is a classic.
What advice would you give anyone getting into the field of cryptozoology? Read widely, but go in with the understanding that information must be viewed with an open but skeptical mind. Anyone can write anything they want and publish it on the Internet or in books. Some people let enthusiasm get ahead of science.

Interactive koala map may help save species

The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) has launched a new online koala map, which grades the quality of potential koala habitat nationwide.

The map is the latest tool in the fight to save the iconic Australian species from suffering a grim fate - the foundation believes there are as few as 45,000 koalas left due to loss of habitat.

The map was developed with mapping experts Esri Australia, whose online maps of Brisbane were used widely during January's floods, and are also helping with the response to the Japanese tsunami.

The foundation's Deborah Tabart says the $8 million map was developed using data from thousands of volunteer hours. It would allow landowners to upload photos and videos when they spot koalas on their properties, or mark where a proposed road or building project could threaten them.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Kakapo's priceless genes may help save species

A chick with "precious genes" has been flown from Codfish Island sanctuary to be treated by Wellington Zoo's resident kakapo expert.

The gangly grey chick is one of 11 hatchlings from this year's kakapo breeding season and could one day play an important role in the rare parrot's survival.

Kakapo have a 100 per cent herbivorous diet and rely on rimu fruit for much of their nutrition. In years when rimu trees fail to bear enough fruit, rangers give the birds pellets, but these can be too rich in protein and energy for the baby birds to tolerate.

Its mother, Solstice, was found on Stewart Island in June 1997. She was the first kakapo to be found and taken from the island in five years. She laid three eggs in 2002, but all of the chicks died before hatching. "This little chick is very precious, genetically," Dr Argilla said.

Solstice was artificially inseminated to increase the population's genetic diversity, so her chick would be a valuable breeding bird if it stayed healthy. Solstice One, believed to be a female, will be given an official name after her gender is confirmed and iwi have been consulted.

Dr Argilla said she completely disagreed with the suggestion by University of Adelaide scientist Cory Bradshaw this week that the "wonderfully weird" kakapo was among endangered species that were beyond saving.

"I don't think they are – DOC are doing such a good job," Dr Argilla said. "In 10 years they've managed to more than double the population, and also the big breeding seasons are happening closer and closer together, and there's now a higher percentage of females."

DOC's Kakapo Recovery Programme has increased the number of kakapo from 50 to 120 since 1995, not including the 11 chicks hatched this season.

Orphaned albino echidna gets lucky

In the latest albino wildlife story to cross our desk, little 'Leo' the echidna has landed on his feet after being orphaned and found at Berry on the NSW south coast.

The little monotreme was taken to Symbio Wildlife Park near Wollongong very dehydrated and far too young to be left on his own.

Park staff nursed Leo back to health, feeding him a milk supplement that duplicated his mother's milk.
Leo has since been weaned off the milk formula, sharing meals of termites, lean mince, eggs, insectivore powder and olive oil with his new playmate, Albert.

Search for Tassie Tiger bears no fruit

Last December 2010, the Australian Geographic Society sponsored adventurer Andrew Hughes to see if the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine - declared officially extinct in 1986 - continues to persist in any remote pockets (see video below) of Tasmania - and surprisingly, New Guinea.

His eight-week, two-part adventure began on foot as he traversed remote regions of south-west Tasmania. He then travelled to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) - where thylacine fossils have been found - and learnt about traditional hunting practices, before paddling down the Strickland River in a dugout canoe. "These two very different environments [Tasmania and PNG] were both home to the Tassie tiger historically," he says.

In fact in geological history, when sea levels where much lower, New Guinea was joined to Australia by a land bridge across the Torres Strait. New Guinea shares many species with Australia such as echidnas, quolls, tree kangaroos, possums and birds of paradise.

Unfortunately, Andrew didn't find any evidence for the continuing existence of the thylacine in either location. But is this the last word on the thylacine? We don't think so...not by a long shot!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Australia's national parks to star in new TV series

National Geographic Channel in Australia and several European broadcasters are teaming up to coproduce a documentary series about Australia's national parks.

Wild Australia is being produced by Queensland's Wild Fury, Hamburg's Moers Media and NDR Naturfilm. Screen Australia co-financed the series.

Wild Fury and National Geographic Television International (NGTI) are also to produce Koalas: The Secret Society Exposed, a documentary following "a year in the personal lives of eight koala bears."

Saving the Unicorn of Vietnam

The Vietnamese government has approved a Saola Natural Reserve to protect one of the world's most endangered—and most elusive—mammals.

The Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) - often referred to as the Unicorn of Vietnam, despite sporting two horns - is one of the most enigmatic endangered animals in the world today.

The shy ungulate lives in the dense jungles of Vietnam and Laos, and is more related to wild cattle than Africa's antelopes.

The saola is so unusual that is has been given its own genus: Pseudoryx, due to its superficial similarities to Africa's oryx, and animal remained wholly unknown to science until 1992.

The new reserve in Quang Nam Province rests on the border of Vietnam and Laos.

"This new reserve will create a biodiversity corridor connecting the East of Vietnam to West side of Xe Sap National Park in Laos," explained Ms. Tran Minh Hien, Country Director of WWF Vietnam, in a statement.

There are no specimens of saola in zoos, making reintroduction impossible should the species go extinct in the wild. Over a dozen individual saolas have been held in captivity, but all died within a few months time.

While the saola looks like an Africa antelope, it is actually more closely related to wild cattle, though it is evolutionary unique enough to have its own genus. The saola's range extends along the Annamite Mountains in both Vietnam and Laos. The animal is threatened by snares set by poachers, dog-hunting, and loss of habitat largely exacerbated by road construction.

Visit the Save the Saola website.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Meet the Cryptozoologist: Tony Healy

The first guest in our new Meet the Cryptozoologist series is well-known Australian Fortean and author Tony Healy (above right) one half of a dynamic duo that includes co-author Paul Cropper.

Welcome Tony!

How did you first get involved in researching strange and mysterious creatures?
When I read Constance White's More Than A Legend, about the Loch Ness Monster - that was in about 1957, when I was 12 years old. Then, when I was working in Canada in 1969/70, I heard about the sasquatch mystery and, once or twice, wandered off into the forest around Pitt Lake, BC, hunting the critters (armed with a little plastic camera and a heart full of hope!).

What were some of the early influences in your life?
In terms of crytozoology, it could have been hearing news bulletins about the Emmaville Panther episode, in the late 1950s.

Have you personally seen one of these creatures?
In 1965, somewhere around Innisfail, north Queensland, I had a very brief glimpse - but at close range - of something that looked for all the world like an American mountain lion.

In addition, at monster-haunted Lough Bray, in Ireland, in 1979, I saw a sizable creature swimming within 60 metres of me. Took three photographs through a long lens, but as it was late twilight nothing showed up on the film.

At Loch Morar, in Scotland, I saw what looked like the prop wash of a motor boat - quite close up, in good daylight. An American guy, Todd Martin of Lincoln, Nebraska, and I took 18 35mm pictures of the "wake" and they came out ok - but of course, the creature, if that's what it was, didn't surface.

What creatures particularly interest you?
All of 'em - but if I had to pick, I suppose I'd say the yowie.

What cryptids are most likely to exist in your opinion?
Perhaps one of the Aussie mystery big cats - even if it proves to be "just" a humongous feral moggy. Also, hopefully, the thylacine - either in Tasmania or on the mainland. Also - maybe the Orang Pendek of Sumatra.

What’s your favourite?
Well - you gotta love those cute little junjudees!

What’s your favourite Australian cryptid?
As above - the yowie or its little bro, the junjudee.

Have you developed any theories around where the more unusual animals - i.e. yowies/bigfoot - have come from?
Yep - unfortunately, I think that a great deal of the evidence indicates that most, if not all of the mysterious hairy giants, plus the lake monsters and most, if not all, of the Alien Big Cats are connected in some strange way and that they are all paranormal: psychic phenomena - possibly intruders from another (admittedly hyperthetical) dimension.

Have you written any books/articles?
Yep; Out Of The Shadows, Mystery Animals Of Australia (1994) and The Yowie (2006) both co-authored with Paul Cropper, plus numerous magazine articles.

Do you have a website?

How many mystery animal reports would you receive a year?
Sometimes scores of them, sometimes only a few dozen.

What’s the closest you’ve personally come to finding something?
In 1978 I was camped with a couple of friends beside Mt St Helens in Washington state, USA when, apparently, a bigfoot came close and checked us out (devastatingly foul smell, thumping noises), plus the Loch Morar incident - if only "Morag" had surfaced!

What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to go ‘in search of’ mystery animals?
To Andros Island, Bahamas, looking for the Yayho (a 5-foot-tall monkey-like critter) and to the Largarflot, in north-eastern Iceland, looking for the Largarflotsormorinn (a  lake monster).

What’s next for you - any trips planned? Books or articles to write? Talks to give?
I will be going back to Ireland next year to revisit a few of the monster-haunted lakes, then back to Lake Bala in Wales, and then a bit of scouting around southern England looking for Alien Big Cats and phantom Black Dogs -  but I probably won't venture up to Scotland this time.

I have some vague plans to visit southern South America in 2013 to look for lake monsters, plus the Ucumar and Chupacabras.

Am working on another book with Paul - a round-up of Australian poltergeist cases - it's shaping up very well, and hopefully will be published early next year.

Could you share some of your favourite cryptozoology book titles with us?
While it's hard to go past that timeless classic Australian Big Cats, I'd have to say that, as my most lengthy and intensive cryptozoological expeditions have been in North America, Scotland and Ireland, the books I've referred to most frequently - as sort of guide books to locations -  have been John Green's books on the Sasquatch and Peter Costello's In Search of Lake Monsters.

What advice would you give anyone getting into the field of cryptozoology?
Have fun. Take it seriously, but not too seriously. Enjoy the trip - you'll meet a lot of nice people and visit a lot of interesting, out-of-the-way locations.

Bilby Dreams documents species return

The Australian Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis, pictured above) is known to 'breed like rabbits' - if given half a chance - an attribute that could help the animal claw its way back to non-threatened status.

Tragically its cousin, the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura), became extinct in the 1940s, although a skull was found in a Wedge-tailed eagle’s nest by P. Hanisch at Steele Gap in the Simpson Desert, Northern Territory, in 1967. The bone was still relatively fresh, and was estimated to be less than 15 years old.

The Greater Bilby wasn't far behind before the establishment of 'the Bilby Fence' in Currawinya National Park. The fence stops foxes, dingoes, feral dogs and cats from preying on the vulnerable marsupials, and competition from rabbits, and ensures the survival of this 'insurance population' of bilbies.

This week Channel 10 aired 'Bilby Dreams' over the Easter long weekend - great timing considering the Greater Bilby has been held up as an alternative Easter icon as part of a campaign to raise awareness about its plight.

'Bilby Dreams' is a documentary following the inspirational journey of Peter McRae and Frank Manthey, sees the two men pioneer a national fund, a protected colony and a breeding program in an effort to save the bilby from extinction. 

This is the story of two men who’ve dedicated the last 10 years to saving a species. They’ve done so well, it could be a model for the future, helping many other threatened animals. 

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Property rights for native animals?

Australian native animals could be given property rights to protect their habitats under a radical plan.

University of Western Sydney academic John Hadley, who is at the forefront of a global push to give animals property rights, believes farmers should be forced to negotiate with the legal guardians of Australia's native animals before clearing their land.

"Under an animal guardianship system, landholders who want to modify habitat on their land would have to negotiate with a guardian acting on behalf of a designated group of animals," Dr Hadley said in his article on a new academic website The Conversation.

"Ideally, guardians would be registered with an independent tribunal and be qualified to make environmentally and ethically-informed decisions."

National Farmers' Federation president Jock Laurie said the proposal had to be treated seriously.

Bunny boom Down Under

Australia is facing the worst rabbit plague in Australia since the 1995 release of the calicivirus from Wardang Island, and it's threatening to undo the good work in eradicating the nation's costliest animal pest.

Authorities have blamed a reduced focus on controlling the rabbit pest and immunity to calicivirus for the growing problem, which costs the nation an estimated $200 million a year.

Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia chairman Nicholas Newland said a failure to recognise the extent of the emerging issue was exacerbating the problem.

"Rabbit numbers are increasing across Australia with the greatest concern being high-rainfall areas, particularly in some coastal towns," Mr Newland said.

Authorities said a shortage of professional shooters and a failure to eradicate rabbits was causing increased environmental problems.

Paradoxically, there is a massive demand for rabbit meat or skins because of a shortage of commercial rabbit shooters.

And the shortage of skins has meant iconic Australian brand Akubra Hats must import 50 per cent of the rabbit skins it needs from Europe to make 150,000 hats each year!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Australian skull proof of convergent evolution

A fossil of a snail-eating marsupial has teeth that resemble a lizard's, providing a striking snapshot of convergent evolution.

Malleodectes, a small ferret-like marsupial that lived 10 to 17 million years ago, had a distinctive hammer-shaped tooth on each side of its upper jaw, said Rick Arena, lead author and palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

These findings, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, are an example of convergent evolution, which occurs when two unrelated species have similar physical features.

"It's a striking example of evolutionary convergence, and the first example of a marsupial with teeth that resemble a lizard's," said Arena, who discovered the jawbones in the famous Riversleigh World Heritage fossil field in Queensland.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

EdgeScience features Sumatra's Orang Pendek

CFZer Adam Davies, the expedition planner who is pulling together the 2011 Sumatra campaign, has written of his numerous trips to the area hunting the Orang Pendek for EdgeScience magazine #7.
Adam writes:

"But a serious consideration of the scientific evidence for the orang-pendek points in two directions at once. The structural analysis of the hair suggests either an orangutan, or something very closely related to an orangutan. The DNA analysis, on the other hand, points to a human or something very closely related to humans. But why can’t it be both?" 

You can download a free copy of the magazine from the website.

Lair of the Cane Toad Discovered

Sydney scientists have tracked down the first known breeding spot for one of our most invasive pest species, the Cane Toad.

The Sydney University researchers used technology to help their quarry to its main lair - a pond in an industrial park in the Sutherland Shire, in Sydney's south.

Scientists used radio transmitters attached to the backs of cane toads to follow the movements of the nomadic toads.

And in heartening news in the fight against the spread of the amphibians, scientists believe they have stopped the pests from gaining a foot-hold in the city.

A cane toad researcher from the University of Sydney, Rick Shine, said the program was a terrific example of a co-ordinated attack on a potentially serious problem.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hairy-nosed wombats feel farmers' wrath

They've always been uneasy bedfellows, but now Hairy-Nosed Wombats - a rare and protected marsupial - are being slaughtered in large numbers by South Australian farmers as their numbers boom thanks to abundant rain and plenty of food.

Nearly 900 southern hairy-nosed wombats have been shot with South Australian Government sanction since 2006, and there are claims that many more have been slaughtered illegally.

The Government also has rules which state that any young wombats found in the pouch of a shot wombat should be killed by decapitation, as this achieves "a sudden and painless death".

Sickeningly, Parliament has been told that apart from the official deaths, hundreds more wombats are being killed illegally by landholders across the state.

As well as being the state's animal emblem, the wombat is classed as a vulnerable species, but farmers claim its burrows destroy their land and damage farm machinery.

Like badgers in the United Kingdom, wombats are much maligned by the farming community and are seen as a menace, copping the blame for everything from soil erosion and breaking the legs of cattle (from falling into wombat burrows) to spreading disease.

Official figures show that between January 1, 2006, and December 22 last year, 139 permits were issued for destruction of South Australian wombats.

The Nargun and the Stars

The Nargun and the Stars, a children's book-turned-TV-serial, introduced a generation of Australian children to the wondrous creatures of the Dreamtime.

The Nargun and the Stars tells the story of Simon, an orphan who arrives at his cousins’ remote farm, and the Nargun – a huge, living rock from the beginning of time, woken from an age-old sleep. 

The farm is a place of ancient secrets inhabited by amazing Indigenous mythical creatures. Simon soon meets Potkoorok (the land’s water creature), the Turongs (tree people) and the Nyols (rock people), and finds himself in a life and death struggle with the terrifying Nargun

Wrightson used the legend of the Nargun to inspire her story. According to Gunai (Kurnai) legends, the Nargun is a large female creature who lives in a cave behind a waterfall in the Mitchell River.  

Stories were told around campfires about how the Nargun would abduct children who wandered off on their own.  The Nargun could not be harmed with boomerang or spears.  

These stories served the dual purpose of keeping children close to the campsite and ensuring that people stayed away from the sacred cave.  The Den of Nargun was a special place for women and may have been used for women's initiation and learning ceremonies.  

Thanks to CFZ's Richard Freeman for bringing this one to our attention.

If anyone out there has the TV serial on an old VHS tape, or has a converted copy on DVD, we'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

NZ Kokako snapper sought

A tramper (a NZ word for hiker or bushwalker) who is believed to have snapped a photo of a rare South Island kokako in Kahurangi National Park is being hunted by a band of bird lovers.

Golden Bay's Alec Milne said the South Island Kokako Investigation Team was keen to contact a woman who took a picture of a wattled bird on March 29. The woman was tramping between Salisbury and Balloon huts at the time, he said.

"She was on the side of the track and beckoned to a backpacker to have a look at the bird which she said should not be there."

Mr Milne said he heard of the incident through a driver who later gave the backpacker a lift out of the park.

Mr Milne said securing a photograph of a kokako, which has been listed as functionally extinct by the Department of Conservation, would be a coup. North Island kokako have survived and are protected.

But numbers of South Island kokako, which had a distinctive orange wattle, had been extremely low for the last 100 years, he said. However, Mr Milne said 57 unconfirmed reported sightings were made of the South Island kokako in the 20 years to 2010.

From the archives: Footprints of Dreamtime Dinosaur (1964)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Wolgan Valley's Albino wallaroos

A rare albino wallaroo has been delighting staff and visitors at the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

"We've had sightings of one mature albino wallaroo on the property since opening 18 months ago, but to have two more spotted on the property is incredibly rare and exciting for us and our guests," the resort's general manager Joost Heymeijer said.

The resort's field guides have noticed the albino wallaroos are more timid and less trusting of humans than their grey brothers and sisters, and wait until it is darker to come out to feed.

The education program co-ordinator at Featherdale Wildlife Park in Doonside, Peter Spradbrow, said albinism is a rare condition where the skin, hair and eyes lack the pigment that gives them colour.

It is observed across many animal species, but in the wild it is difficult for an albino creature to reach adulthood.

For more examples of albino macropods, check out earlier CFZ posts.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

OOPA: Wallaby with joey spotted in Cornwall

The UK's Telegraph newspaper has reported the discovery of an OOPA - out-of-place-animal - in Cornwall, in the country's west.

Homeowner Brian Nash, 39, provided the best possible proof of his claims that a wallaby was on the loose with a photograph of a mother macropod hopping around a neighbour's lawn with her joey tucked into her pouch.

It is believe the female mated with a male which escaped from a nearby farm in 2007 but was never re-captured. Experts say wallabies are "renowned" for being able to find each other in the wild and it is thought the pair have begun breeding.

The male escaped two years ago from Trevathan Farm near St Endellion.

Owner Mark Symons said: "We lost a male wallaby two years ago and wondered what happened to him. They are very tough creatures and will certainly still be alive.

"He is a healthy boy and will eat anything and would be more than capable of surviving for years yet.

"The chances are he found a mate, a female that also escaped from somewhere."

Beetle invasion puzzles experts

Thousands of beetles are swarming Surfers Paradise in a never before seen phenomenon that has stumped local scientists.

The water beetle invasion captured on amateur youtube footage shows the large black beetles swarming around lights and dropping to the footpath on The Esplanade last night.

Griffith University entomologist Professor Clyde Wild said he had no definitive explanation for the rare phenomenon.

The Spirit House - where are they now?

(The) Spirit House has 50,000 bottles containing half a million specimens. They are used for reference. Some are seventy years old. By renewing spirit every few years they will keep indefinitely. Card index system makes them quickly accessible. Museum assistant examines python for identification and cataloging. Specimens are vital to work of museum in providing ready means of comparison and identification. Photo circa 1950s, taken at the Australian Museum.

So where are all these Australian Museum herpetology specimens now? What became of them?

Wouldn't it be fantastic if the Australian Museum could put together a display similar to that of the Grant Museum of Zoology? Now that would be something...

Queensland's mystery turtle deaths

Dead turtles have been washing up on beaches at Boyne Island and Tannum Sands, south of Gladstone in central Queensland.

Fifteen turtles have been reportedly found, but the cause of death is unknown. Most of the turtles have been juveniles in seemingly perfect health.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) says it is investigating the matter.

Jodi Jones from the Gladstone District Wildlife Carers Association says she is disturbed to hear there could be more dead turtles.

"We've been getting reports since Sunday morning that there's been a significant number, over 10 now I believe, of turtles washed up on the Boyne River and Canoe Point side of the Boyne River," she said.

Friday, 15 April 2011

All this wombat needs is love

A WOMBAT has been diagnosed with depression - after being denied the cuddles and pats he was used to following Cyclone Yasi.

The wombat, named Tonka, shed 20 percent of his body weight as visitors were stopped from visiting his wildlife park home in the eight weeks after Cyclone Yasi tore through northern Queensland, reported the Townsville Bulletin.

Tonka's carers at the Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville spared no expense in vet checks and lab bills as they tried to work out the cause of his mysterious illness.

Billabong Sanctuary manager Brett Flemming said after "forking out some serious cash" they found the problem - and have since nursed him back to health, in time for the repaired park to reopen.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Bunyip immortalised in bronze

Wow! It's been about 30 years since one CFZer read Michael Salmon's children's book, The Monster that Ate Canberra, which introduced the iconic Alexander Bunyip!

And now the famous cryptid has been immortalised by sculptor Anne Ross in 500kg of bronze in her 'A is for Alexander, B is for Bunyip, C is for Canberra' creation. The 2.2m sculpture has been erected out the front of the new Gungahlin Library.

The $175,000 artwork was commissioned by the ACT Government for Gungahlin's $3.8million town park. It includes miniature versions of the National Library, the Shine Dome and Telstra Tower some of the buildings eaten by the Bunyip throughout The Monster that Ate Canberra.

When author Michael Salmon sat by Lake Burley Griffin as a student in 1970, he envisaged a King Kong-type character munching its way through Canberra's cultural institutions.

"Alexander Bunyip has always been Canberra's bunyip from the moment I conceived him in book form,'' he said. "To actually see him here almost 40 years later is brilliant."

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hunt on for NZ's mystery moose

In other parts of the world people seek Bigfoot, Nessie or the Tassie Tiger - but in New Zealand it is an elusive moose that has Kiwis on their edge of their seats.

A century after 10 Canadian moose were released in the southern wilds of New Zealand, a company's offer of NZ$100,000 ($74,300) for 'proof of life' has re-ignited speculation about whether any are still alive, The Southland Times reported today.

Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno told The Times that some people had searched for the moose for years and she was convinced one would be found in the Fiordland region - New Zealand's least populated area, in the nation's southwest - one day.

Last year Ken Tustin, of Bull Creek, near Milton, celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the release of moose in Fiordland with a book that details evidence of moose from the area.

The book, A (Nearly) Complete History of the Moose in New Zealand, details encounters with moose in the fiords and the many sightings of the animal by hunters, trampers, fishermen and lighthouse keepers.

The biologist had been collecting evidence and stories of moose in New Zealand for about 40 years and the book offered photo and DNA evidence from as recently as 15 years ago, he said.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Preps for Sumatra 2011 underway

Preparations have commenced for the Sumatra expedition now that some key aspects of the trip have been finalised - namely the purchasing of tickets!

And while Mike is the pinnacle of fitness, Rebecca has some work to do in the fitness department that includes regular rigorous bushwalks and weight training.

We're going into some pretty challenging terrain choc-a-bloc full of tigers (you know, SUMATRAN tigers), leopards, snakes, giant spiders (Rebecca's favourite) and orang-utans. In other words, we'll be strolling into some of the most biologically diverse terrain on the planet!

But the Orang Pendek isn't the only mystery animal hiding out in the jungles of Indonesia.

In 2005 the World Wildlife Federation's game cameras captured a still of a strange little red-furred carnivore (pictured below), nicknamed the 'Bornean red carnivore', the identity of which remains a mystery for now.

So you see, there will be more than enough to keep us busy while we look for the little hairy man!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Sumatra's Short Man of the Forest

We finally finished watching Murray Collins' Short Man of the Forest, which was released in 2004, but only arrived in the mail this week (and no, we didn't order it seven years ago, we only just managed to track down a copy!).

It was interesting watching the documentary, in which Collins goes in search of the Orang Pendek, for many reasons, but you can't help but be struck by the thought that the folk over at Nat Geo's Beast Hunter used his doco as a template for a recent episode of their Beast Hunter franchise.

Collins, a Brit fluent in the local lingo (a big plus), talks to researchers and witnesses - most of whom reprise their interviews in the much later 2010 Beast Hunter episode (Debbie Martyr, Jeremy Holden, and local farmers and guides) - and treks through the jungle to Lake Gunung Tuju (aka the Lake of Seven Peaks), as Pat Spain later does. Collins and Spain visit the (same?) market and ask if anyone has seen the 'short man' (and get the same hilarious reaction). They even visit the same local shaman!

If you want to be bald about it, it looks like the Beast Hunter crew has pretty much lifted Collins' trip template and used a new front man to spice up the format, which is kind of disappointing. OK, you could argue there are precious few people to interview, and experiences to have, but really...

What's great about Short Man of the Forest though is that it features as its protagonist a fluent Indonesian-speaking primatologist who approaches the subject with the kind of open, enquiring mind that draws in the viewer. You could same the same of biologist Spain, but Collins conveys a genuine earnestness in his quest and the documentary comes off less boy's own adventure and more scientific quest, which is surely the point.

A close encounter with a tiger and a snake doesn't put Murray off, and he has some thoughtful reflections on what the creature could be (is the tiger's deep throaty roar a part of the mythology?), and attempts to deconstruct some of the problems with the Orang Pendek story.

For Orang Pendek fans, it certainly doesn't hurt to watch both, but you will find that while six or seven years elapse between filming, not much else happens, which is a shame in the case of the Beast Hunter episode as so much has happened since the early 2000s it seems almost criminal to have overlooked it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New from CFZ Press

CFZ Press has two new exciting titles out - a reprint of the Tony 'Doc' Shiels classic, Monstrum, and a collection of author Nick Redfern's forteana, Space Girl Dead on Spaghetti Junction.

Monday, 4 April 2011

It's out! The CFZ Yearbook 2011

The 2011 CFZ Yearbook is - at bloody last - now available. Its contents include:

- A Trio of World-Exclusives on ShukerNature. Here’s How It Happened! by Dr Karl Shuker

- The Cryptozoological Aspects of the George Edalji Affair by Nick Redfern

- The case of the Black Dog of Bungay by Dr David Waldron

On the Almasty and Central Asian Wildmen by Dale Drinnon

CFZ AUSTRALIA 2010 Report by Rebecca Lang and Mike Williams.

And much, much more!

For the full rundown and the link to buy this amazing annual, go here.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Is a black panther stalking Broulee?

Is it an April Fool's Day prank? Have we been punked? Or does Broulee really have a black panther?

Today's Bay Post featured a story about a black panther sighting on a bush track that occurred south of Broulee early last month.

It should be noted black panther sightings are not unknown on the NSW south coast.

Wadonga resident Mark Nuggin, 21, was holidaying at Tomakin and was taking a walk with his mother and brother south of South Broulee Beach at about 3.30pm on March 3 when the incident occurred.

“We were walking across a sand motocross track when I saw it,” Mr Nuggin said.

“It was massive, like a black panther. I was terrified.”

He said the animal jumped onto the track and then ran off, and that he saw the side of its face, and it looked cat-like.

“It was solid and had ridiculously big back legs.”

They had a camera and, although they didn’t get the chance to photograph the animal, they got a photo purporting to be one of its paw prints.

Mr Nuggin said he had always been cynical when hearing about big cat sightings in the past.

“I would never have believed this before,” he said. “I have thought about what else it could have been, like a dog or kangaroo, and it wasn’t either of them. I have walked in this area many times before, and I have seen eagles and other wildlife, but nothing like this.”

However, upon seeing the paw print photo, Mogo Zoo head keeper Annalie Van Der Merwe believes it is simply a case of mistaken identity.

“I am nearly 100 per cent sure the paw print has been made by a large dog,” she said.

“It is definitely not a big cat.”

So did Mark see a big cat and photograph a dog track (not unreasonable given where he and his family were walking)? Or did he mistake one animal for another - a large black dog for a large black cat?

Or are we chewing the fat over a fake story? We'll leave it to you to decide...

Nessie hits Sydney Harbour for April 1

You have to love April Fools' Day...

This offering from the folk over at Yahoo got a couple of people excited (really) - they couldn't seem to tell the picture was a fake :-)


Sydney residents were left in fear after a 'Nessie-like' creature appeared in the waters near the Harbour Bridge, according to eyewitness accounts.

Detective superintendent Harvey Edison said that many local police station phone-lines were jammed from 6pm until late last night due to the large number of calls describing a "strange creature emerging from the waters".

Mr Edison revealed that the reports initially came from people on cruises, ferries and boats on Sydney Harbour. "At first we dismissed the calls as a hoax since most of them were made by people on party cruises who were obviously inebriated."

Nonetheless, more eyewitness reports, photos and even videos soon made their way to various Police stations. "This is not the first time we’ve received reports of strange sightings in Sydney Harbour," Mr Edison admitted.

"But, before yesterday, they’ve always turned out to be false."

According to the detective superintendent, usually these sightings are nothing but "prank calls" aimed at having a laugh at the expense of the NSW police. "We’ve heard it all: from a shiver of vicious great white sharks, to a giant octopus. But never before had we received as many calls reporting the same incident as yesterday."

Mr. Edison said that all the videos and photos received are currently being evaluated by a team of experts to determine if they’re real or fake. Although he admitted that it was hard to believe that that much evidence "could have been fabricated in such a short period of time."

When questioned about the possibility of such a creature, prominent Icelandic marine biologist Tsüj Gniddik, who has spent most of his career studying unusual marine specimens, said that people shouldn’t be surprised if more of these sightings start happening all around the world.

"As of late, the quantity of natural phenomena has increased dramatically," Mr. Gniddik said. "Most of this activity happens underwater, at very deep levels, and is rarely felt on the surface.

"These natural phenomena have created several cracks in the ocean floor, which serve as openings to unexplored areas. We have very little understanding of the fauna that resides in these places, as most of them have been cut off from the top level of the ocean for centuries and even millennia.

"If you analyse most sightings of ‘mythical’ sea creatures throughout the years, it is usually a small group or a single individual who claim to have seen them, making these incidents almost impossible to prove.

"The Sydney Harbour sea-creature is the first recorded incident of this kind where the same ‘creature’ was spotted by hundreds of people at the same time and at the same location, which makes it particularly significant."

According to an official statement, a team of experts – which includes world-famous biologists and divers – will soon arrive in Sydney to investigate the sightings.

In response to the reports, NSW police have cancelled all ferry and party cruise services until further notice, and asked people to refrain from sailing or using luxury boats on Sydney Harbour.

The announcement has elicited a plethora of negative reactions from people who were planning on celebrating April Fools’ Day aboard one of Sydney’s popular party cruises.


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