Monday, 24 December 2012

Nimbin 'panther' sighting in northern NSW


Video footage of two separate sightings of a large feline at a property within 50km from Lismore will be sent to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. Experts at the division of Taronga Zoo should be able to determine the nature of the animals on the recordings, according to the Northern Star newspaper.

Shaun Britz of Nimbin confirmed he received the video from a friend of his who preferred to remain anonymous. The recordings were done at the same property by the landowner with a video recorder. 

The recording showed two different sightings, the second one "recorded three months after the first one, at the same property," Mr Britz. Both pieces of footage showed the animal moving around a property, at a distance of over 100m from the camera.

The videos were recorded months before Shaun Britz's sighting last week. He said he received the video last week after he saw a big feline while driving along Shipway Rd, near Nimbin Rocks.

"It is definitely the same type of animal that I saw. It is the same jet back colour," he said. He said that the big cat in the video, which he suspects could be a type of panther, runs as fast as the animal he saw nearby Nimbin.

Shaun Britz said there was anecdotal information on the Internet of similar sightings from Western Australia to Queensland. He added it would be good to have scientific information confirming their existence and where are they located, but they should not be exterminated.

"There has been no attack to humans, I see no reason why we should hunt them down. They seem to feed on wild animals and the odd livestock," he said.

Watch the footage here: Nimbin 'panther' sighting | Northern Star

Saturday, 22 December 2012

CFZ's Journal of Cryptozoology gets a Naish wrap

A great piece by Darren Naish about the new Journal of Cryptozoology (CFZ Press), the history of similar publications, and why cryptozoology should be taken more seriously.

"...cryptozoology cannot and should not be considered a pseudoscience. Why? Mostly because there is no contradiction whatsoever between the scepticism, hypothesis-testing, self-correction and need for autoptic evidence typical of ‘proper’ science with analyses of cryptozoological data, nor does investigation of cryptozoological data hinge on the assumption that there are always real, flesh-and-blood animals at the bottom of eyewitness reports.

Read the full post over at his Scientific American blog here.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Shrinking Devil gene pool not settlers' fault

European settlers were not responsible for thinning the gene pool of the Tasmanian devil, new research discussed over at The Conversation has found.

Tasmanian devils are currently under threat due to the spread of an aggressive facial tumour, one of only three recorded types of contagious cancer. The disease spreads so readily because genetic diversity in devils' immune systems is low. It is passed from devil to devil through biting.

It had previously been assumed that this lack of diversity was due to population decline that occurred as a result of European settlement.

Extinct & Endangered Birds of Australia

Author Sue Taylor, a 'twitcher' from Melbourne, Victoria, talks to ABC Radio about her new book John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds of Australia.

In 1838, John Gould, the 'father of Australian ornithology', visited Australia with the intention of gathering material for his great work on Australian birds. In the resulting publications, The Birds of Australia: In Seven Volumes (1848) and the accompanying Supplement (1869), Gould gave over 180 Australian bird species their scientific names.

John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds of Australia features 59 plates of birds from Gould's eight-volume work, birds that today are threatened or that no longer exist. Featuring exquisite full-colour lithographs reproduced from the National Library of Australia's copy of The Birds of Australia, this book gives an insight into the history of each bird's European discovery, as well as its subsequent fortunes or misfortunes. A detailed description of each species, its habitat, its habits, current threats and more are also included.

A sobering reminder of all that we have lost, this book provides and opportunity to reflect on how we might also take action to protect and preserve the birds for whom it is not too late.

Merry Christmas from CFZ Australia

It's that time of year again - all the best for you and yours!

The CFZ Australia team

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Col Bailey talks Thylacines and his new book

CFZ Australia popped in to talk to Col Bailey recently on a sojourn to the Apple Isle, Tasmania, just last week.

Thylacine seeker Col Bailey has a new book in the works due out next year, which details among other things his own sighting in southwest Tasmania's rugged bushland on an expedition in 1995.

"I was trembling like a leaf. It was surreal. I had no idea how I would react,'' Mr Bailey, 75, told the Herald Sun earlier this year.

He said the officially-extinct carnivore appeared while he was camping in Weld Valley and he followed it beyond a cluster of ferns.

"It was about 15 feet away and it turned and looked at me for several seconds, then backed away,'' he said. Mr Bailey said it stopped and looked at him a second time before it disappeared into the scrub.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, 3 December 2012

'Princess Mary' adds her rare Devil genes to the pool

This two-year-old Tasmanian devil, nicknamed Princess Mary by keepers, arrived recently at the Devil Ark - a breeding site established in the NSW Barrington Tops in 2010 to protect the species from extinction.

Supervisor Adrian Good said Princess Mary was important because she was genetically diverse to the 120 devils already thriving at the site.

Read more at the Herald Sun.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Devil-proof fence for Tasmania?

Van Diemen's Land Company is looking to build a devil-proof fence around its massive Woolnorth property to protect one of the last pockets of healthy Tasmanian devils in the state, according to the Tasmanian newspaper The Hobart Mercury.

The company is in the process of converting beef pasture, clearing bush and increasing its dairy herd as part of a $180 million expansion.

Conservationists have raised concerns that endangered devils would be put at further risk as native vegetation was cleared to make more room for dairy pasture. Woolnorth, on the state's North-West Coast, is home about 600 devils.

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust has criticised the company for electing to clear almost 2000ha of bush in line with its expansion plans, saying loss of habitat will cause devil and quoll numbers to drop.

But VDL chief executive Michael Guerin said Woolnorth boasted some of the biggest and healthiest devils in Tasmania and he was confident they could continue to co-exist with farming.

OOPA: Monster crab from Tasmania emigrates to UK

Claude the Tasmanian giant crab, was saved from death when the fisherman who caught him sold him to a British aquarium  for £3000.

A 29-hour plane journey from Australia later, and a short stint in quarantine, Claude is now ready to meet the British public at the Sea Life centre in Weymouth, Dorset.

The hefty crustacean weighs a mighty 15lb with a 15-inch shell – 100 times bigger than a standard UK shore crab - but will grow to double his weight.

Read more at The Daily Mail.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

OOPA: Emu loose in North Devon

A fugitive emu that went walkabout in a north Devon town has been apprehended by the police.
Amazed residents called the police and two officers seized the flightless bird before it could wander into rush-hour traffic in Barnstaple.

They held the animal – originally a native of Australia rather than south-west England – in the back of their patrol car for half anhour before an animal ambulance arrived and took it away.
Officers are searching for the owner of the bird.

Acting Sergeant Zoe Parnell said she had just begun her shift at 7am on Wednesday when she got a call that an ostrich was on the loose in Riddell Avenue, a residential street in the town.
"I thought it was a wind-up," she said. "I thought we'd arrive and it would be a turkey or something like that." She rushed to the scene, where she was joined by police community support officer Stephen Huxtable.

Parnell said she wasn't sure what the creature was but knew that they had to stop it reaching the main road, where the bird could have caused rush-hour chaos.

"It was trying to get into people's houses. Obviously it was finding that difficult, and would try the next one. I must admit that while I'm not normally scared of birds, I was a bit nervous with this one."
It fell to Huxtable to seize the bird and put it in the back of the police car.

Like many others apprehended by the police, the emu was not happy. "There was a lot of wee-ing and poo-ing and flying feathers in the back of the car," said Parnell. "It's going to have to be specially cleaned."

She thought about giving the bird a drink from her water container "but it was a bit distressed so I thought it was better to leave it", she said.

Instead, the officers called for backup from Diana Lewis, north Devon's "animal angel" and a leading light in North Devon Animal Ambulance.

The emu remains in her care while the search for the owner continues.The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was not necessary to have a licence to keep an emu.
However, Wendy Higgins of the Humane Society International/UK flagged up concerns: "In Britain, we keep more exotic wild pets than cats or dogs, and often residents can be completely unaware they are living next door to a python or a primate. Often it is only when an escape or an accident occurs that their existence is revealed.

"Unbelievably, there is no definitive national register of the number and variety of exotic animals being kept in the UK or traded globally.

"Wild and exotic animals are not pets, but a welfare disaster waiting to happen. It is high time the appalling commerce in wild animals for the pet trade was brought under serious control and preferably banned altogether."

Emus used to fall under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 but have been delisted.
Higgins said: "However, the list of species covered has been seriously reduced, many local authorities fail to effectively enforce he legislation, and there are serious questions regarding the competence of those that do. As a result, non-compliance levels are believed to be high."

*Barnstaple is not far from the headquarters of the CFZ UK - If they never find the owner, perhaps Jon Downes could take it in!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Yowie spotted in upper Blue Mountains, NSW

The new Blue Mountains Cultural Centre opened on the weekend and thousands of locals poured through the doors to see firsthand the flash new library and art gallery, and the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the expansive lookout/verandah.

But as the CFZ posse wandered the large, spacious rooms and admired local art created by local artists both new and old, we were gobsmacked to see...a Yowie!

Not a real live hairy beastie, you understand, but an artistic representation of one created by Aboriginal artist Shaun Boree Hooper of the Wiradjuri people in 2009.

It's quite an eye-catching piece of artwork as you can see.

If you're visiting the Blue Mountains, be sure to stop in at the centre and check it out.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Our new top five - and Devils still rule!

It's always interesting to see what rates as our most popular posts over time.

Interestingly, the only story to make the top five again more than a year later is the Tassie Devil Road Kill Project! A novel project launched by the Tasmanian State Government to reduce the number of Devils being killed on roads.

Here's the latest round-up (for an earlier round-up in May 2011, go here):

Thousands of fish die at Sydney airport
Jan 10, 2011 - 8769

Scientists save Tasmanian Devil eggs, sperm
Dec 5, 2011 - 8527

Tassie Devil Road Kill Project
Nov 8, 2010 - 6021

Taxonomy fails - the infamous 'Cat Found' poster
Feb 17, 2011 - 5669

Hunt on for NZ's mystery moose
Apr 12, 2011 - 4403

Snarls From the Tea-tree looks at Victorian big cat reports

The Australian big cat phenomena gets the academic treatment from David Waldron and Simon Townsend, who have penned an examination of Victorian reports in their new book Snarls From the Tea-tree: Victoria's Big Cat Folklore.

Check out the book blurb:

Big cat scares have for generations haunted Victorians; stories of stock killed, claims of paw-prints left behind, rumours of 'beast' attacks only breeding the 'myth'.

Often there was a large local response, with massive bushland hunts that focused on the notion of escaped lions, tigers or other big cats.

The 'myth' of the big cat has evolved over time, but relates closely to Australia's engagement with its environment.

Waldron and Townsend study this big cat folklore evolution across Victoria.

Cryptozoology Journal comes to Australia

The Australian orders for Volume One of The Journal of Cryptozoology will be sent out shortly.

Thank you everyone for your support, this will be an unbeatable read!

Read more about the journal here.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Great snakes! Watch where you sit...

Funny how the job advertisements at these mines in Outback Australia always skim over the 'small' things, like having to live with hundreds of other sweaty, dirty men, paying a fortune to live in a caravan and...having to fish deadly snakes out of toilets!

This sequence of photos is doing the rounds in Australia, and supposedly harks from an unnamed workplace in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

This fierce creature was found tucked up under the toilet, hovering just above the S-bend - thankfully before the photographer settled down on the seat.

Perhaps a redback spider would have been preferable after all!

And for the snake-phobic, there is really only one way to deal with such an inconvenience...but wouldn't have been easier going behind a bush?

No word on the snake's fate.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Journal of Cryptozoology debuts!

Volume One (November 2012) of The Journal of Cryptozoology is now available, and contains two excellent Australian reports (see below). Buy it here!

Following the demise of Cryptozoology (published by the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology), there has been no peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to cryptozoology for quite some time. 

The Journal of Cryptozoology has been launched to remedy this situation and fill a notable gap in the literature of cryptids and their investigation. 

For although some mainstream zoological journals are beginning to show slightly less reluctance than before to publish papers with a cryptozoological theme, it is still by no means an easy task for such papers to gain acceptance, and, as a result, potentially significant, serious contributions to the subject are not receiving the scientific attention that they deserve. 

Now, however, they have a journal of their own once again, and one that adheres to the same high standards for publication as mainstream zoological periodicals.

This volume contains:
  • Editorial - Karl P.N. Shuker
  • A Digital Search Assistant for Cryptozoological Field Expeditions - Andrew May
  • The Queensland Tiger: Further Evidence on the 1871 Footprint - Malcolm Smith
  • The Second 'Scapasaurus' (Re)Discovered - Markus Hemmler
  • Identifying 'Jaws', the Margaret River Mammal Carcase - Darren Naish

Monday, 22 October 2012

CFZ exhibition promotional video

Check out the promotional video for the upcoming exhibition at the CFZ HQ in the United Kingdom!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tasmanian Devils on the lamb in WA

Three Tasmanian Devils have been enjoying the fruits of freedom in WA after escaping from Peel Zoo.

One of the devils has already been caught and returned to the Zoo.

The four-month-old male devils - Itchy, Scratchy and Genghis - escaped from Peel Zoo, on the outskirts of Pinjarra, south of Perth, after a tree smashed their enclosure on Tuesday.

Zoo owner David Cobbold said Scratchy was found at about 3am today but the other two hand-reared animals remained on the loose.

Mr Cobbold said two men chased Scratchy through the bush and trapped the animal against a fence before wrapping it in a towel.

They then secured it in their bathroom, but Scratchy clawed its way through part of the plasterboard wall.

Mr Cobbold thanked the men but said people should not try to handle the animals themselves.

"The capture proved devils aren't as dangerous as their reputation suggested,'' he said.

"The name is more about the noise than the behaviour.''

Mr Cobbold has urged members of the public who see the remaining two devils to call him on 0400 788 289.

A truckdriver reported seeing "little bears" crossing South West Highway near Pinjarra on Friday and paw prints were found around the town's golf course.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Mainland devils discovery in Portland - 1962

Over at the Nature Glenelg Trust they've published this fascinating snippet, something from the archives detailing the discovery of a skeleton of a mainland Tasmanian Devil.

Nice one guys, thanks for sharing!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

'Throwback' catapults Yowie to the small screen

Seems everyone has Yowie fever!

Another group of film makers is shooting a movie right now in far north Queensland.

It's called Throwback and it's been a labour of love for all involved. They've been filming it for 2 years at various locations around Cairns.

The director, Travis Bain, is so confident it will take off, he's attracted a major name to the production. He arrives in the far north next week, so the Cairns based crew are busily rehearsing the scenes he'll shoot so all will be ready.

Check out the trailer!

'Mad Max' to abseil Pelverata Falls for devils

Tasmania‟s Max Moller is like a local combination of legendary animal lover Steve Irwin, action man Bear Grylls and wildlife photographer Steve Parish.

So those who know him are not fazed when he says he's going to launch himself off the top of the State's tallest waterfall to raise money for the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal and capture every moment on camera.

Pelverata Falls in the Snug Tiers is virtually in the backyard of his Margate home and on Saturday 13 October, Max will abseil 114m to the bottom carrying a Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal banner that the whole world will see.

Cameras on Max's head, arm and positioned above and below the falls will record every move and live footage and comments on the plight of the State's iconic animal, which is battling Devil Facial Tumour Disease, will stream live over the internet.

Amazing images of the waterfall circulating widely could also be a bonus for local tourism.
The wildlife filmmaker and adventurer is a former special forces army officer who 15 years ago swapped weapons for a camera and moved to Tasmania.

Max spends his days hiking, rafting and climbing to remote areas collecting footage of endangered animals and interesting natural areas, with his work having appeared in National Geographic magazine and a David Attenborough documentary.

More recently he's been filming for British movie producer, actor and extreme fisherman Robson Green.

Max said that he is passionate about helping raise awareness of the plight of the Tasmania Devils.

“They run around my house and I dread thinking about a day when I could no longer hear their crazy growls of a night time,” he said.

“I'm calling on local businesses and individuals to sponsor me $100 per metre of the abseil and every cent will go directly to the appeal.”

Supporters are being asked to go to the appeal's official website, click on the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program Appeal icon at the top of the page and fill out the donation form choosing Max Moller Abseil in the 'inspiration' field.

Administered by the University of Tasmanian Foundation, The Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal is the official fundraising entity for the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, directing funds to Australia's national response to DFTD.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The big cat report that wasn't

Victorian Government Big Cat Study
Assessment of Evidence for the Presence in Victoria of a Wild Population of ‘Big Cats
by the CFZ's Mike Williams, 
author of Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers

The Victorian Government recently contracted some biologists to investigate reports of ‘panthers’ in that state in a ‘desktop study’.

The report fell down in a number of areas, not least because it set out to either prove or disprove the existence of big cats but made no attempt to collect fresh evidence, and from the outset was dealing with secondary evidence and sources.

It was a study commenced to find primary evidence of big cats in Victoria – despite the fact this office-based review was starting off with no primary evidence at all!

There are numerous statements contained within the report that do not stand up to scrutiny, quoted here in bold with clarifying statements underneath:

“Although feral Domestic Cats can attain a large size (weights of up to 16 kg have been claimed (Denny and Dickman 2010).”

This paper (Denny and Dickman 2010) is quoting Mahood (1980). The rest of the paper went on to say: "Because Mahood’s 1980 records appear so extreme and have not been approached in any subsequent studies, and the author is deceased, they are considered to have been erroneous and are not subject to further discussion."

The 16 kg  claim has not so far been substantiated.

“However, there are many thousands of reports of ‘big cats’ in the files of community cryptozoological groups and individuals.”

Let’s not try to marginalise these reports by confining them to ‘community cryptozoological groups and individuals”, the subtext of which one suspects is ‘kooks’. There are also numerous reports of big cat sightings in State Government databases collected by their own staff that have been flushed out by numerous FOI requests.

“However, some evidence cannot be dismissed entirely, including preliminary DNA evidence…”

Exactly which "case" are they talking about? If the authors are talking about the Winchelsea case, they managed to appear to try and dismiss it.

“The wide geographic spread and temporal span of claims of alien ‘big cats’ and other predators suggests that it may be a human sociological phenomenon, rather than a biological fact.”

Many standard animal reports come from a wide geographic spread and the majority of reports of any standard animal are temporal, so it’s puzzling why academics would use this language. What other predators are they talking about, and why bring it up?
Since sociology is the study of human social activity, why are they using the nonsensical term “human sociological”? No attempt is made to explain what sort of sociological phenomena the authors are trying to imply but there is the appearance of an attempt to try and pathologise the observers. Cognitive dissonance could explain the response of many academic observers to the phenomena and their attempt to play down reports due to 1/peer pressure, 2/social and academic status, 3/financial implications i.e. State Government sub-contracters and State Government staff members ... and good old ignorance.

“Consequently, claims of the presence of alien big cats, which are rarely, if ever, supported by convincing evidence, are seldom taken seriously by mainstream zoologists.”

1/The authors don't define the word "convincing". To whom, themselves?
1/The majority of mainstream Australian zoologists would know nothing about the phenomena.
2/The majority of mainstream zoologists in Australia know nothing about the behaviour of large felids.
3/The majority of mainstream zoologists would come under the same pressure mentioned above regarding cognitive dissonance.

“The Minister for Agriculture and Food Security requested, in May 2012, a science-based, preliminary assessment of the available evidence."

This is a preliminary assessment. Having scientists do a study does not mean automatically that it is "science-based".

"Further, these databases of evidence have not been subjected to independent and scientifically rigorous assessment. Without such assessment, these private databases have limited capacity to advance understanding of the issue. Where rigorous assessments have been conducted the conclusion has always been either inconclusive, or that the most parsimonious explanation involves a known species, notably Domestic Cat or Dog.”

No one appears to have edited this "scientific study". One minute the databases have not being assessed, the next minute they have been.
We must ask - who carried out the "rigorous assessments"? Or are the authors being coy when they are self-referencing ?
And let’s sort out "parsimonious" – an adjective characterised by or showing parsimony; frugal or stingy.
So it’s a stingy explanation?
We agree with this assessment, but not in the way the authors intended.

“A small number of the cases we reviewed either showed characteristics considered unusual in known species or showed characteristics known to occur in large felids, such as dragging and covering a carcass, or peeling back the skin from a limb of a carcass to access the flesh, a feat requiring considerable strength. Assessing this evidence either requires us to expand the pattern of behaviours attributable to known species of predator (for example, Dog), or deduce the presence of an unknown species. In the absence of convincing corroborating evidence for an unknown species, the former conclusion is considered the most appropriate at this stage.”

The pea and thimble in the above is, of course, "In the absence of convincing corroborating evidence for an unknown species".
Once again, convincing to whom? What cases were examined with more than a singular line of "evidence"?
Could not even one other case...corroborate a single case? Or the Winchelsea could corroborate cases near by. It’s just that the authors choose not too.
The authors even resort to deciding off their own bat to now "expand the pattern of behaviours" i.e. of dog, to try and maladroitly avoid an unknown predator conclusion. The basis of this decision(other than the obvious) is not explained of course. This is a logical fallacy called Argument from Ignorance and it is amazing that a "scientific study" used it.

“In other cases people have claimed that known predators, such as wild Dogs or Pigs, are not present in a district, and therefore predation must be caused by an unknown species (i.e. ‘big cat’). It seems more likely that our understanding of the distributions of known predators is inadequate.”

No, the authors are confused. People are pointing out the predation patterns they are seeing because they are not something they have seen associated with dogs or pigs. And pigs and wild dogs are frequently not present in their area when the livestock attacks and kills occur.
Interestingly, many of the "people" reporting these unusual patterns have also been DSE staff, who are more than aware of what dog and pig predation looks like.

In reference to "The Deakin Puma Study Group" the authors write:
“However, despite the stated aims of objectivity we have discerned some potential sources of bias in the approaches used. For example, the title given to the study ‘Deakin Puma Study’ is likely to have led to unconscious bias in the volunteer participants, predisposing them to read ‘Puma’ into inconclusive evidence.”

The authors imply that the title preceded the study, so that it could possibly influence the volunteers’ bias. Which means the authors must have researched this by contacting Deakin University, or the study’s author Dr John Henry, because how else would they know this ‘fact’? Surely a scientific report, would not present facts by guessing!
But it transpires Professor John Henry decided the title after the study was completed (pers comms).
The irony of mentioning unconscious bias is obviously lost on the authors of this “scientific study”.
No mention is made of the Deakin study actually tricking its participants by fakery, then telling them to be on their guard in future, in this report.
And there is no mention of the Deakin study’s conclusions.

“This scat became one of five pieces of evidence upon which Henry (2001) based his conclusion that there ‘is sufficient evidence from a number of intersecting sources to affirm beyond reasonable doubt the presence of a big-cat population in Western Victoria’. However, in an addendum to the report, Henry (2001) admits that the Geranium Springs scat 2 is most likely a regurgitated pellet from a Wedge-tailed Eagle."

Because Henry et al were wrong with some analysis (and admitted it!), the Deakin Study group was, by implication, wrong on all pieces of evidence, according to this report, and its findings should therefore be dismissed.
Following that exact same logic, this report’s findings should also be dismissed.

“We believe that this revised finding is indicative of the Deakin Puma Study Group falling into the understandable position of being captured by the legend it was seeking to prove.”

This patronising response is projecting its own motives on to other groups.
Why would a long and active, real scientific field study be “captured” by a “legend”? It is also normal scientific practise to admit a mistake, as the Deakin study did.

“Another case worthy of close consideration involves photographs of two clear footprints on a sandy track in Longford Pine Plantation taken in December 2005 and supplied by Richard Sealock, along with an analysis of their size and shape. We agree that these footprints are highly likely to have been made by a cat and that their reported dimensions are greater than could be explained by a Domestic Cat, however, that is as far as that line of evidence can be taken.”

Confusingly, however, there is no indication of the actual size of the prints.
Richard Sealock stated he believed the prints to be 87mm-88 mm (pers comms).
The authors had time to cut and paste leopard photos easily found on the Internet, which were not required, but had no time to cut and paste the Sealock prints or mention their size.?

“We find that none of the investigations that have focussed on secondary and tertiary evidence has succeeded in providing an unequivocal answer. We see little point in dedicating public resources to that line of inquiry.”

What “investigations” are the authors taking about? The Sealock prints, in my opinion, are giving an “unequivocal answer” – they’re large felid. Just as the Winchelsea case are odds-on Panthera pardus.

“No ‘big cat’ scats have been identified during studies involving the systematic collection and analysis of thousands of mammalian predator scats (feral Domestic Cat, wild Dog (includes Dingo), Red Fox) undertaken as part of studies of predator diet and as a mammal survey technique (for example, Brunner et al. 1976, Klare et al. 2011).”

Another pea and thimble trick.
The weakness of the systemic collection meme is below - and the above ‘argument’, as weak as it is, falls apart for identification outside the authors’ stated parameter.
We are forced to rely on the authors’ implied access to every scat report ever compiled in Victoria.
We are forced to believe that every field worker who did (by implication) find a possible outsized felid scat, would automatically know this and report it.
We are then forced to have to believe that this report would have made it into some form of study.
We are then forced to believe that scientists who supposedly are skilled in scat analysis and could identify large felid scats were always contacted and that the same scientists, who are sub-contractors, are highly skilled at identifying large felid scats.
And then we are forced to believe that this same unknown scat scientist would be unaware of what the implications were if they did report the scat was from an unknown large felid and were oblivious to the ramifications to their possible future contracts.
And, without a family identification (since species would be impossible without DNA) this hypothetical scat result would be dismissed with the wave of a hand since it did not “prove” what species of animal the scat came from.
And when the scat is identified by DNA down to species level...this is ignored anyway.
Now what about outside the “involving the systematic collection and analysis” parameters of this statement?
The Winchelsea case (discussed further down) fits the bill perfectly.

The Kurt Engel cat
“DSE arranged for the extraction and analysis of DNA from a small sample of skin taken with permission from this tail. The analysis was undertaken at the Department of Genetics, Monash University, and the result was that the sample exhibited between 97.7% and 100% sequence identity with the Domestic Cat, and only 87% sequence identity with the Leopard (Kate Charlton in lit. to Bernard Mace, 24 November 2005, copy on DSE file 85/3043-4). The length of this cat’s tail, at 65 cm, is twice that of a normal Cat (Appendix 1) but it may have been stretched during skinning, a common occurrence if care is not taken. Hence, the conclusion is that the animal was a particularly large individual of Felis catus, the Domestic Cat.”

In their haste to produce this "scientific report", did the authors not think it was odd, that if the DSE arranged the extraction and analysis, the only reference for this in all of its files is "Bernard Mace, 24 November 2005, copy on DSE file 85/3043-4)"? Why no reference to the actual DSE file?
Because Bernard Mace, who passed the sample to Charlton, was not working for the DSE. The DSE, as the authors would have known, had nothing to do with the “Engel case” what so ever. And it is worse than that…
The DSE was initially offered the tail and photos, but their staff were not the slightest bit interested.
The only plausible way the tail could have been altered in a way to have increased the length to any decent level, was not by stretching, which would have torn it. It would have required a "trick" cut further up the body, but fraud was dismissed by a Melbourne Museum biologist who examined the tail firsthand.

Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers (Strange Nation Publishing, 2010) tells the full story:

Melbourne Museum biologist Rory O’Brien was one of the few people to physically examine the tail soon after the animal was shot. He dismissed claims the length of the tail may have been hoaxed by skinning a part of the back hide.

“It was large, pretty long ...the tail was very thick overall and very furry and the last 3-4cm of the tail still had the remaining caudal vertebrae. It seemed pretty fresh to me,” he said. “It looked authentic…because the tail was the same colour (as the photographs). It was a uniform tail, all black. It was very bushy, but sleek and catlike in texture.”

An attempt to have the material further examined by DSE employees was rebuffed by the department.

The Engel tail was also examined by Bernard Mace, a long-time cat researcher with extensive field experience, who was also of the opinion the tail was genuine and had not been tampered with.

So we have two scientists who examined the fresh physical evidence, but two biologists looking at photographs have a more valid scientific opinion? Hmmmmm…

Earlier in this post I referred to the Winchelsea faecal sample, which is a highlight of the report since it basically is saying that secondary evidence led to a species ID using DNA.

Winchelsea faecal sample
This result seems not to have been formally conveyed to any Government Department and has not been publicised before this study, apart from a passing reference in Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers (Strange Nation Publishing, 2010). Scientist Stephen Frankenberg has personally conveyed that the decision not to publish this information was largely because the result could not be considered 100% reliable due to a small possibility of contamination (note that Triggs had leopard hairs in her workshop).

The contamination issue was a strawman argument.
If there was contamination, then both ‘control’ hair (zoo) and Winchelsea sample hair would have had the same DNA sequence exactly. They would have, too, since they would, by implication, be just from the same animal.
The two samples were not the same animal since they shared similar but not identical DNA sequences (to ID the animals as leopard), but they also had a slight difference.
They were two different leopards (pers comms, D. Cass)!

Carrie Magnik BSc Hons thesis
These three cases highlight the difficulties in extracting and identifying traces of DNA from secondary sources such as carcasses and scats. Even when successful at extracting and amplifying DNA, the results will be probabilistic rather than binary.

Confusing language structure. All DNA results are essentially probabilistic, so what?
They are the gold standard for species ID.
It’s almost like the authors are trying to lessen the importance of DNA results by using the term “probabilistic”.
The term “binary” is implied (possibly) to have some greater scientific importance than mere probabilistic.
Binary means composed of two pieces or two parts, yet paradoxically, in this specific sense, DNA results are always a binary result - the sample and the extraction - so its use is baffling.
Veracity of available evidence
No unequivocal evidence supporting the presence of ‘big cats’ in Victoria was found in this study.

We are guessing the authors mean “a body on the table”.

Perhaps even more compelling is the lack of evidence.

The authors appear to ignore their own conclusions.
see below

"Notwithstanding conclusions 1-3, some evidence cannot be dismissed entirely, including preliminary DNA evidence, footprints and some behaviours that seem to be outside the known behavioural repertoire of known predators in Victoria." 
If they cannot check what meagre facts they present here, and cannot even check their own report for inconsistencies like this, why are the general public supposed to give any credence to this report?
When the authors of this report have made mistakes, “chance” would dictate that unless they have some sort of bias, the mistakes would be random.
Some of the mistakes would inadvertently support the possible existence of big cats in Victoria, and some against this possibility.
But what is interesting is that all the major mistakes are towards supporting the government’s views, and none for the opposite view.
The probability of that sort of result, happening by chance, would be zero.
The report was not science-based but rather just a collection of anecdotes and opinions that seemingly, in spite of itself, made several interesting points such as the Winchelsea DNA result.
Conclusion number 4 and the six recommendations were excellent and ‘on the money’, but sadly, they will never be implemented.
This desktop study of old reports was overwhelmingly a textbook example of confirmation bias, and merely a tick of the box for a relatively new state government eager to deliver on an election promise.
It’s also the latest in a long line of ‘government investigations’ into a phenomena that has stalked the states of NSW and WA, delivering yet another substandard result on what is surely one of Australia’s most compelling wildlife mysteries.

Baby boom for Tasmanian Devils

The Tasmanian Devil population is dwindling in its native home of Tasmania, an island state located just off the coast of Australia. Experts say it is possible the species could become extinct within the next decade if action is not taken to preserve the existing healthy population. Programs to restore the population are working so well there have been a reported 40 births this year!

Forget big cats - search is on for tigers!

The State Government says it's likely big cats don't exist - but Tasmanian Tigers may be roaming the hills, according to the Free Press Leader.

A Monbulk group that investigates rare animals, believes Tasmanian Tigers - declared extinct last century - are alive and well and in the area.

The Australian Rare Fauna Research Association (ARFRA) is a voluntary organisation that records and investigates sightings of unusual animals.

ARFRA president Dorothy Williams said there have been sightings of Tasmanian Tigers (thylacine) in the area for many years, but with little publicity.

In modern times, the animals have been recorded as native to Tasmania, but scientists believe they were once widespread throughout mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea.

"People have reported sightings of 'strange foxes' to us that we believe are thylacines," Ms Williams said.

The 81-year-old has been involved with ARFRA since 1990 and is working on a book about the group's work, based on the research of its late founder, Peter Chapple, who died in 1992.

She said the group urged anyone who had seen something that resembled a Tasmanian Tiger to contact them confidentially.

She said the group even had reported sightings of a yowie - a mythical Australian version of the yeti.

Members are needed to continue investigations, including night-time expeditions, into the tigers.

Winchelsea DNA story finally comes out

Weekly Times journalist Chris McLennan investigates a little known incident in the history of Victorian big cat sightings.

Here, at the foot of the Otway Ranges, grass was still abundant from the spring and farmers well versed in their craft. Yet death was stalking at night.
Full grown sheep had been found killed in the most savage ways, necks bitten in half, rib-cages shredded.
Then calves also started to be found in paddocks - lying in a pool of their own entrails.
A local grazier, experienced with the insane maulings of dog packs, knew something much more lethal was ranging his paddocks when the sun went down.
He called for help.

In November 1991, records show the farmer phoned the closest government wildlife office, then the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, in nearby Geelong.
Their most experienced man, a land protection officer with fisheries and wildlife credentials, was 34-year-old David Cass based at Meredith.
After six years with the department, David had already seen many ugly incidents, but even today he still remembers the first time he saw one of the carcasses.

"It was just peeled open, the force that was applied just staggered me, it was bizarre."
David took photographs and then interviewed the farmer who finally offered information about big cat sightings in the area.
"I'd heard the myth about the big cats, but in my job I was trained to deal with facts," David said.
He considered marauding dogs the logical explanation for the deaths when he returned to the office to file a routine report.
"The landowner was no dummy and he was a good bushman, so I took what he said seriously."

The grazier had also kept a meticulous map of where the stock deaths had been occurring on the farm, complete with coloured pins denoting whether they were sheep, calves and even wallabies.
David had a busy workload, but after filing his report he checked around the Winchelsea area for any other cases of mysterious stock losses.
There were plenty.

"Local people were hesitant to talk, they thought it could be big cats ... but they were scared of being called a looney," David said.
The farmer later called David directly, saying he had found unusual animal faeces in one of the paddocks, close to where a sheep had been mauled.
It was to be the clue that solved the mystery.
David was intrigued and travelled down to the farm again.

"They were large faeces, it was distinctly different in size, colour and smell to anything in my experience."
He carefully bagged and tagged the specimen and hand delivered it to Barbara Triggs, Australia's leading authority in the analysis of scats (animal faeces).

A comparative sample was needed, so David then contacted the Melbourne Zoo and a veterinarian supplied faeces and some hairs from their own black leopard.
The smell was "very similar", according to Triggs. She managed to extract four hairs from the scat.
It was thought the animal had swallowed the hairs while grooming itself.

Triggs examined the hairs under a microscope and again said they were "very similar" to the hairs from the zoo leopard.
"There was a possibility that the Winchelsea faeces were from a big cat such as a black leopard."
There was not enough evidence to make a positive identification. A second expert, Hans Brunner, was asked for his opinion, but he was also uncertain although he eventually said "a large panther-like animal could not be excluded".
Both the farmer and a dogged David Cass wanted more.

DNA sampling back in 1991 was new and more costly than it is today and, according to David, the department refused to pick up the cost.
The remaining hairs went into a plastic bag stored with the department.
There they remained until August 2000 where a young research scientist agreed to look at the them.

Dr Stephen Frankenberg was working at La Trobe University's Department of Zoology.
The DNA testing was as conclusive as a cautious scientist would allow.
The source of the sample was Panthera pardus, he found.
A leopard.
Dr Frankenberg said there was slight risk of contamination of the sample before the hairs had reached him and he refused to be drawn into saying the result was 100 per cent accurate.
Still, his explosive finding gathered dust until it was published last week in the Victorian Government's big cats study.

Dr Frankenberg is today a research fellow in developmental biology with the University of Melbourne.
Dr Frankenberg told The Weekly Times it was impossible to give a percentage probability of the reliability of the result because there were too many unknowns.
"If I had done the test on a sample from Africa, I would have had no strong reason to doubt it and I would say 99 per cent.
"But there are so many subjective factors that argue against its reliability, such as no other hard evidence of wild black leopards in Australia."

Dr Frankenberg said he agreed with the State Government's decision not to invest heavily in further research on the existence of big cats.
"But I do think it would be worth keeping an official 'open mind' and establishing a system for properly analysing evidence that might arise opportunistically in the future."

After 17 years with the public service, rising to become the state's top fisheries enforcement officer, David Cass is now working part-time in northern Queensland."I started out as a sceptic and I was not absolutely convinced until the Frankenberg result," David said.
"It was the Eureka moment, he might be hesitant now, but at the time it was definite."
He said "my superiors buried the information" because they did not know what to do with it.
"I am happy the truth has come out now.
"We might not be so sure about there being lots of wild cats in Victoria, but we can be positive, in 1991, there was a leopard where it shouldn't have been at Wensleydale."

*This case was mentioned in Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. The authors were asked at the time to refrain from naming the individuals involved, so made brief mention of the case in their Analysing the Evidence chapter and reproduced the Winchelsea paperwork in the appendix.

Pumas freed by American soldiers

Many Weekly Times readers believe American soldiers released two big cats into the Grampians wilds after their tour of duty ended in World War II.

A study by Deakin University in 2001 concluded "a big cat population in the Grampians mountain range is beyond reasonable doubt''.

A Wimmera reader, who did not wish to be identified, said his father was stationed with the US servicemen at the Grampians camp for several months in 1942.

"They were called to go home to America and were told they could not take their mascots with them, they were two pumas,'' the man said.

"The handlers took them out into the bush, and were supposed to destroy them, but let them go instead.''

The man also recounted another big cat story told by his now deceased father.

"In about 1950 my father was at a horse sale in Hamilton and he overheard two farmers talking about losing stock.

"One chap said he had shot a big cat savaging his stock.

"The other man asked what he had done with it?

"He said he had buried it as quick as he could so he wouldn't get into trouble.''

Other theories have it that the fabled big cats are descendants of puma brought to Australia by American goldminers during the gold rush in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Victorian Government last week end its "desk-top search'' for the big cats.

A government report said it was highly unlikely a living population of big cats existed.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the study, a pre-election commitment from the Coalition, found there was a lack of hard evidence to substantiate that a population of wild big cats exists in Victoria.

The study said the most obvious explanation for many of the reported sightings of big cats over the years is that they were large feral domestic cats.

Mr Walsh said there had been thousands of reports of big cats in Victoria over the last century but until now there had never been a comprehensive and co-ordinated attempt by any Victorian Government agency to collate the information in order to make a fully informed assessment.

The report did reveal scientific evidence of big cat which roamed the Winchelsea area in the 1990s.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Night Parrot makes Smithsonian's Top 5

The Smithsonian has included Australia's Night Parrot in its list of the top 5 most mysterious bird species. Find out who else made the cut here.

Between 1912 and 1979, birders spotted this elusive species, native to the interior of Australia, exactly zero times—leading most scientists to believe it had gone extinct.

Since then, a tiny handful of sightings of the nocturnal, yellow-green bird have occurred, and experts now estimate that the population is somewhere between 50 and 250 mature individuals.

After the last verified sighting in November 2006, when park rangers in the state of Queensland turned up a decapitated specimen that had died after flying into a barbed-wire fence, the Australian government chose to keep the find temporarily secret while they searched for more night parrots, so as to avoid an influx of birders flooding the remote park in hopes of spotting one of the world’s rarest birds.

Big cat study small on results

The existence of big cats in Victoria is "highly unlikely" a State Government report has found.

Now the Arthur Rylah Institute has called off the investigation it ran, citing a lack of hard evidence to verify wild big cats in the state.

And the official conclusion is that big cats sighted over the years are large feral domestic cats, according to Victorian Agriculture and Food Security Minister Peter Walsh.

He said his pre-election commitment to run a "desk" study into whether big cats existed was now met, and further investigation was not warranted.

The study did reveal that preliminary DNA evidence could not be dismissed, but it was not conclusive to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the animal in question.

But Toolangi naturalist Bernie Mace described the study as "inconclusive" and said its results did not put him off.

He said sooner or later someone would get the perfect photo or the necessary DNA evidence to prove big cats exist.

Mr Mace, who has been researching big cats in the region for about 30 years, said the investigation had been too short and he believed the cats were out there.


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