Monday, 17 September 2012

Govt: Big cats more likely to be big ferals

The existence of "big cats" in Victoria is "highly unlikely" a State Government report has found, the Herald Sun reports.

The Baillieu Government released the findings of a report into the possible evidence of a wild population of big cats in Victoria.

It found that sightings of animals thought to be pumas or similar large cats were more likely to be big feral cats.

Despite releasing the report, the Government could not say how much the study cost taxpayers or how many staff worked on the project.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the study, conducted in Melbourne offices on past evidence rather than in the field, said there was nothing to substantiate claims big cats existed in the state.

"No big cat has ever been detected in a formal wildlife survey, shot by a hunter or farmer or killed by a vehicle and no skeletal remains have ever been found,’’ she said.

"Nor have ‘big cats’ been identified in wildlife studies involving the analysis of thousands of mammalian faecal samples.’’

The study, a pre-election commitment from the Coalition, recommended further investigations to conclusively disprove the myth once and for all, however, Mr Walsh said the search was now ended.

Further work focusing on "obtaining primary evidence to conclusively rule out the existence of big cats'' is not warranted, Mr Walsh said.

He 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.

Big cat researcher Simon Townsend, who combed through the findings, said he was "disappointed" at the decision to axe the inquiry.

"I’m disappointed, but it isn’t a surprise. When the State Government said they wanted to 'get to the bottom' of the issue, I knew straight away it wouldn’t work out that way," he said.

He claimed the State Government had launched the investigation only to ensure it fulfilled its pre-election promise and had coughed up the "minimal" amount on the study.

"They could have done a much better job," he said.

"There was no work conducted in the field, it was all off-site reports. The whole thing was just about fulfilling that election promise – there was no real will to sort out such a serious issue."

Mr Townsend supplied more than 30 years of data to aid the inquiry, including records that indicated a positive DNA test was recorded in the late 90s, which suggested a leopard had roamed regional Victoria.

"Why not put up the money to check a positive result?" he said.

"Literally hundreds of people have seen things which have traumatised them. It’s caused stock loss and left people scared and threatened.

"I have seen one myself within close range. On top of that, in all my analysis of stock killing, there are clear cases where dog mauling just doesn’t add up.

"As far as I’m concerned, they do exist."

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