Thursday, 30 August 2012

Big cat hunters vindicated

Big cat believers are no longer considered 'nutters' but people worth listening to, writes Chris McLennan for the Weekly Times.

Simon Townsend has been vindicated.

His obsession with mysterious big cats is no longer considered as weird as it once was.

The Victorian Government has made big cat hunting almost mainstream.

Simon's not alone.

Hundreds of people have come forward in the past week with their own hesitant eyewitness accounts of a big cat.

Powerful animals with giant eyes shining like torches in the car headlights.

Black cats running into the bush, jaws dripping crimson from a fresh kill in a farmer's paddock.

These people have also been emboldened by the Government.

Their stories can now travel further than the safe confines of family gatherings.

There is a community-wide protection afforded to big cat tales this week that didn't exist last week.

For many decades, Simon and fellow big cat hunter John Turner had occupied a space that included UFO believers, bunyips and yowies.

"We knew we weren't crazy, perhaps a bit odd, I'm certain everyone else thought we were crazy," Simon said.

First, we should say Simon is not the Townsend of television fame, but a well-spoken retired farmer from the Geelong district, snake catcher, justice of the peace and odd-jobs man.

He was once a councillor on the Surf Coast Shire, which he laughingly admitted was no guarantee of sanity.

Forty years ago, when he was 17, he had an experience with a big cat in the Yarra Ranges that changed his life.

"I saw a black panther at close range. Other people with me saw it too. It was as real as it can get," he said.

It filled him with questions, but Simon was surprised to find little written material on Australia's mystery animals.

"There was lots about the Loch Ness monster or Abominable Snowman but nothing about Australia."

Over the years, Simon and John have done their best to set that right.

Their bigcatvictoria website is the cutting edge in research as far as the big cat mystery goes. Within two days of news breaking of the Government search, they had 4309 hits on their website, equivalent to their normal traffic over a month.

Simon was no longer a fringe dweller but an authority.

He conducted six radio and two television interviews last Wednesday alone, including one with Radio New Zealand.

Government researchers have already rifled through Simon and Paul's collection of big cat reports, pictures and frozen kill samples.

His only disappointment thus far about his newfound popularity is that Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh hadn't spoken to him personally.

"We seem to be doing a lot of the work for the Government, I am surprised it wasn't acknowledged," he said.

There are several books in the wind, including one with a Ballarat academic, and given the Government's search, sales of the book might be better than originally expected.

Despite this renewed interest in big cats, Simon hopes no-one catches one.

"It would be traumatised, it would cause all sorts of problems. No, that's not what I want at all," he said.

Simon is not certain a big cat will be run to ground.

"They've been around for more than a century and they still haven't been caught," he said.

"The reports we get are all so consistent there's no doubt at all in my mind they are still about, and all over the state.

"People see dark-coloured animals which are scared of them and run away."

Simon said that "for the moment" he was merely interested in tapping into the sudden rise of interest to collect all the eyewitness accounts people may have been too embarrassed to offer in the past.

Simon and John have a network of big cat watchers all around the state.

He admits their own days of hiding out in the bush covered against the elements in a rain-proof poncho hoping for a big cat sighting are in a more athletic past. They prefer to be called out now after a mauling or a fresh kill.

With modern scientific analysis, Simon believes the DNA evidence would be more important than a blurry picture or indistinct video.

"Even if we find one or two there's still going to be lots more that are never going to be found," he said.

"The search for the big cats will go on for another hundred years. With the right attitude we might be able to answer a few questions right now but no way are we going to be able to answer them all."

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Dr Eric Guiler on the Thylacine

Thylacine ( Thylacinus cyanocephaplus )

The thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf) formerly ranged over all of mainland Australian as well as Tasmania. Fossil remains have even been found in New Guinea. Some 3000 years ago, thylacines vanished from mainland Australia and their distribution was confined to the island of Tasmania where they occurred throughout the State.

The thylacine is the shape and size of a big dog, the largest one being measured at 9"6" (290 cm) from the nose to the tip of the long tail, (but see also this interesting web resource). Their colour varied from light sandy fawn to a darkish brown with dark stripes over the rump and back. The number of stripes varied between 13 and 21. The stripes extended onto the tail and one reached down the outside of the thigh. The belly was a creamy colour. The tail was not like that of a dog but more an extension of the body like that of a kangaroo; the tail did not have a long hairy brush.

We know surprisingly little about the the biology of the thylacine. It was formerly found in the open forest and coastal scrub habitats. It did not live in thick rain forests. At no time, since European settlement, was it a common species. The capture of a specimen always aroused local interest. There is evidence that thylacines were most abundant around 1890-1902. Thylacines bred once per annum, probably in December, and up to 4 young were carried in the pouch of the female which opened backwards. By July-August the young were too big for the pouch and were left in a sheltered place while the female hunted for food. Later the young followed the mother while she hunted.

Thylacines were not pack hunters. Single animals ran down their prey by persistent chase rather than by speed. They required a large home range, about 40 sq km being the minimum area, although 80 sq km would be more appropriate in most habitats. They stayed in their home range but, as far as is known, they were not territorial. Their food consisted of wallabies and smaller animals. It is believed that thylacines ate only fresh killed meat and never returned to a kill. This was important because it means that they could not be poisoned by baiting carcasses.

But why were thylacines killed? When the European settlers arrived in 1802 they brought sheep with them and the flocks provided a source of easily accessible food for thylacines. Many sheep were killed from about 1830 and thylacines were blamed. However, most of the deaths were probably caused by wild dogs, aborigines and vagabonds. The Government introduced a bounty scheme from 1888-1908, paying £1 (=$2) for an adult and 10 shillings (=$1) for pups. Over 2,200 were killed, as well as many upon which no bounty was claimed.

The bounty scheme, combined with habitat alteration, disturbance to the home range and a possible disease, drastically reduced the numbers of thylacines until around 1920 there were only a few left. The last thylacine to be shot in the wild was in 1932 and the last to die in captivity was in 1936. Interestingly, all the photographs of live thylacines are of captive animals; there are no photographs of the animals in the wild. There are no substantiated accounts of thylacines wilfully attacking a human. They would bite to defend themselves when cornered, or trying to escape. They seem to avoid human contact as much as possible.

Reports of alleged thylacine sightings have been received over the past 60 or so years but none have been unambigously substantiated by positive field evidence. The number of reports has diminished over the last 5-10 years and it must be concluded that, unfortunately, the thylacine is now extinct.

Prepared by Dr Eric Guiler, 
Honorary Research Associate 
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania

No reward for big cat scalp

Last week's story about the hunt for big cats throughout Victoria has caused plenty of interest for readers of the Weekly Times.

The Victorian Government will not be offering a reward for a big cat.

There are fears a cash reward would lead to a rush of indiscriminate shooting and trapping across the state.

The Victorian Government has been taken aback by the huge public interest in its big cat hunt since it was first reported in The Weekly Times last week.

Thousands of people have taken part in media polls and many hundreds more have offered reports of eyewitness sightings of the elusive big cats.

Several people have suggested the Government offer a dead-or-alive reward as a cheaper way of doing its largely office-bound research.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh offered a flat "no" to the idea.

Big cats researcher and author, Dr David Waldron of the University of Ballarat, said a reward would be terrifying.

"You will get people going out there who don't know what they are doing," he said.

"The likelihood that someone would get seriously hurt is very high."

The state's leading big cats researcher, Simon Townsend, said a reward would be inappropriate.

"You would have a lot of incompetent people wandering around in the bush ... some of them would be trigger-happy, something tragic would happen," he said.

Many rewards have been offered for evidence of a big cat over the years.

One of the most recent was in Gippsland's Glengarry, where a hunting store owner offered $10,000 for a big cat killed with an arrow. The reward was never claimed.

A national magazine offered $20,000 for the capture of the Beast of Bealiba in the 1980s.

The beast, supposedly a rogue puma living and hunting in central Victoria, was never found and the reward never claimed.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Victoria backflips on big cat hunt - it's on again!

Just a couple of months after it shelved plans to solve Victoria's 150-year-old big cat mystery, the Victorian Government now wants to put the matter to rest once and for all!

Witness sightings have been recorded for the past 60 years of cougars, panthers or pumas in a wide stretch of Victoria from Gippsland to the Otways, the Grampians, central Victoria and at Beechworth in the northeast.

An official investigation has now been launched in line with a 2010 pre-election pledge from Nationals leader Peter Ryan, who said "there were enough credible observations" to warrant the effort.

Mr Ryan possesses a copy of Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, and is well aware of the plethora of compelling witness testimony and evidence to date.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said work on the big cat study had already started. Mr Walsh said wild-dog control remained the Government's priority but there were now "sufficient departmental resources available".
"The study will review existing literature, reports, correspondence and other evidence for the presence of big cats in Victoria, and it includes liaison with relevant community groups and individuals who have reports or records of possible sightings," Mr Walsh said.

"The study is expected to take several months to complete."

The investigation is known to include staff from the Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Monster croc skull unearthed

Scientists have found what they believe to be the jawbone of an ancient "monster" crocodile at a remote station in northwest Queensland.

They estimate the extinct saltie could have been the length of a Brisbane City Council bus and may have once roamed as far south as the state's capital.

University of Queensland palaeontologist Gilbert Price said the fossil was found by masters student Bok Khoo, from the University of NSW, during a dig last month.

"It would have been a monster, bigger than anything we have likely seen before," Dr Price said. "Possibly the biggest in Australia. It did not have any teeth attached but the tooth sockets alone were 35mm-40mm wide so you can imagine the teeth it had."

The front lower jaw bone was found near a disused road crossing along the Leichhardt River, near Floraville station, on July 10. It was found in an ancient riverbed deposit formed during the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods, one to two million years ago. Dr Price, who was on the dig, said the expedition involved keeping "one eye on the fossils and one on the riverbank" at all times.
"The area is full of saltwater and freshwater crocs, sharks, rays," he said.

Scientists believe the ancient crocodile may belong to the genus Pallimnarchus, an extinct mekosuchine crocodylian from the Pliocene and Pleistocene period. They will conduct radiometric dating but believe it belongs to the species Pallimnarchus pollens - the largest of the genus.

Day 3 of the CFZ Weird Weekend 2012

Sunday at the Weird Weekend 2012 In Woolfardisworthy, Devon.

By Tania Poole - from the CFZ Australia, now living in the wilds of a Yorkshire valley...

Apparently, during the night, here in Woolfardisworthy, a leopard was heard calling nearby! Jon McGowan, a large cat expert and hunter, heard it at about 5am, while he camped by the local Community Centre. Jon has heard many large cats before, so he should know. Yes, all manner of weird things come to the Weird Weekend, even cryptids like out-of-place leopards.
First of the day was Richard Muirhead’s ‘The Flying Snakes of Namibia’ where he looked into old stories from the 1950s where someone saw a flying snake – or thought they did. Since then and in many areas of this south western part of Africa, people who see lights in the sky at night, don’t say it’s a UFO like we would, but that it’s a flying snake with glowing lights on its head.
Lars Thomas gave us a run down on the cryptids of Denmark, ranging from bugs, beetles, wolves, and chipmunks, to trolls, hominids and lake monsters. Lars not only reads a lot, and travels to see  location of sightings, but he uses the microscope to discover what is out there – and has tested many hairs under a microscope, finding leopards, out-of-place cats, hominids, and even a platypus hair…from New Zealand. The old stories in Denmark of hominids and hairy creatures are found in many old documents from wooden carvings to old manuscripts. He also knows of a colony of Siberian Chipmunks that live in forests in Denmark, but is uncertain how they got there. The questions at the end even involved Trolls, and it was clear to Lars and many others that questions were asked in relation to the ‘Troll Hunter’ movie, released in 2011.
Richard Freeman spoke about the Sumatra expedition of 2011 – so far the largest group to go on an expedition, splitting 3 teams up to cover more ground to try and see the Orang-Pendek. Even our fair Rebecca Lang was mentioned, as she and Mike Williams were two of the explorers. There was no success in seeing the cryptid this time round, like the sighting in 2009, but Richard still has hopes to see something one day and tick this off as ‘found’ for the CFZ.
Lars and Jon teamed up to talk about the nature walk they took people on the grounds of the community centre, and Lars came back with photos of several bugs and flies – including over a dozen types of hover fly.
Ronan Coghlan, the CFZ’s ever hilarious trickster talked about Sinbad the sailor, and the cryptids he had encountered. This re-introduced us to creatures like the Roc, and the ‘Old Man of the Sea’ – from Sumatra and probably like our Orang-Pendek or even the Flores dwarf.
Jon ended the Weird Weekend by remembering those lost to us this year – Jeanett Thomas, the late wife of Lars, and Lionel Beer’s long term partner Joy who passed away this week. And there was acknowledgment of a CFZ birth and a wedding too.
The dinner was held in the hall this year, with a wonderful meal presented to us by the lovely ladies of the community centre, and we all ended the night eating a CFZ cake too. After dinner, a small few of us stayed behind and watched ‘Occasional Monsters’ a British film that, I think, was inspired by Nick Redfern’s book ‘Three Men seeking Monsters.’
Due to the excitement about possibly having a leopard nearby, Max Blake, Jon McGowan, Darren Naish, and Mark North appeared to walk away from the Community Centre equipt with headlights, torches and wet weather gear, into the dark fields of the Devon countryside in search of it. The rest of us (now an even smaller group) listened to Silas Hawkins read out a third story of Richard Freeman’s book ‘Green Unpleasant Land’ – this one a rather creepy one about the Bodmin little people. Richard is an excellent writer of the macabre and I recommend this book, and not just to those interested in forteana, but those who love ghost stories.
This ended the XIIIth Weird Weekend for 2012, and as a representative of the Australian CFZ gang, I was honoured to be there (It certainly helps when you are currently living in Yorkshire). Thanks to Jon and Corinna Downes, and all other members of the CFZ that helped me out this weekend. And thanks to Joe Thomas who taught me how to say Haribo properly! Those of you who have not been to a Weird Weekend, make an effort, DON’T MISS IT!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Maria Island Tasmanian devil ark approved

A proposal to establish a healthy population of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island has been approved.

The Environment, Parks and Heritage Minister, Brian Wightman, said the Parks and Wildlife Service has completed a comprehensive assessment of the project. The Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan have also been approved by the Tasmanian and Australian Government's Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

"For 18 months, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program has been monitoring wildlife in the Maria Island National Park," Mr Wightman said.

"Members have been carefully researching how to release and manage a population of devils. They've been considering potential impacts, and developing mitigating measures, if required.

"They've also completed formal assessments and applications under State and Commonwealth requirements.

"This project has been researched and analysed - and it stacks up. It'll now become a valuable part of our strategy to save the iconic and much-loved Tasmanian Devil from Devil Facial Tumour Disease," he said. The Parks and Wildlife Service has imposed conditions on the approval, to protect the island's natural and cultural heritage values.

"Despite all the work done so far, the program recognises the potential for some unforeseen impacts from introducing Tasmanian devils to Maria Island," Mr Wightman said. "That's why the introduction will be staged over time, with the devils and other species under constant monitoring.

"This project will be slowly and carefully introduced, to ensure it's done safely and effectively," he said.    

With Devil Facial Tumour Disease continuing to spread to new populations, Mr Wightman said establishing secure insurance populations is increasingly vital.

"This project helps add to a healthy population of Tasmanian devils, that can be used to re-build wild populations, if needed, in future," he said.

Mr Wightman said the proposal involves releasing up to 50 Tasmanian devils on Maria Island, in stages, over the next two years. The next stage is working with the Zoo and Aquaria Association to identify the most suitable animals for release.

For the initial release, about 10 animals will be chosen from the overall insurance population of more than 500, which meet genetic and behavioural criteria. That process will happen in coming months, with the initial release planned for later this year.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Day 2 of the CFZ Weird Weekend 2012

Saturday at the Weird Weekend 2012 in Woolfardisworthy.

By Tania Poole - (the only member of CFZ Australia who could make it to North Devon this year.)

While I sleep in a conservatory next to a tank of rare caecilians, the household of Myrtle Cottage, headquarters of the CFZ, was readying itself for the second day of the Weird Weekend.
At the Woolfardisworthy Community Centre where they hold the event, everyone gathered at midday for the next instalment. Jon began with the question ‘What is cryptozoology’ in which he asked the youngsters, (some who are crew or just ‘gophers’) and they could not answer – or were too shy to. Even I asked for the microphone to give 3 categories of it – I was right, except for another category – the study of out of place animals.
Nick Wadham was back with his bugs – dangerous ones (or just creepy looking ones) – consisting of large snails, spiders, tarantulas, centipedes, cockroaches, stick insects and scorpions, even an Argentinian Boa. He got the kids up the front to hold the creatures and described how their victims were killed and eaten.
After some lunch, Max Blake spoke about the Analysis of the Borley Bug – Margaret Wilson, an artist, saw a strange creature one day in the garden of the Borley Rectory (the most haunted house in Britain), describing it, and sensing that it was supernatural, and getting a friend to paint the creatures (right), Max’s talk was to perhaps work out exactly what kind of bug it was, the closest thing it could have been was a dragonfly.
Jon McGowan did a talk about large cats in Britain – focusing on his location in Dorset. Jon is one of those very few people that can prove big cats do haunt the British countryside because he goes out into the wilds three times a week and watches their movements. His findings were amazing, and knowledge of big cat behaviour is brilliant.
Glen Vaudry spoke about Scottish Sea Serpent carcasses, and spoke about many findings that occurred in previous centuries as well as the more recent ones – quite often the carcasses turn out to be rotting basking sharks, complete hoaxs, or made up.
Jan Bondeson, who I also saw talk at the Fortean Times Unconvention in London, in November 2011. He’d spoken then about Talking dogs. This time it was another dog - Greyfriar’s Bobby. Most people know about the small mongrel that apparently mourned his master’s death and sat by the grave in the kirkyard for several years around the 1860s and 70s, but Jan had wanted to find out whether that was true – indeed he had existed – a dog called Bobby did indeed live in the Kirkyard, but it was not known that he mourned by the grave. He was well fed, even attending a restaurant where he got fed, at 1 o’clock after the gun went off daily at the castle, and had many friends in places he used to visit. It may have been romantic story tellers or journalists that made Bobby a loyal dog that never left its master’s grave. He may have not even had a dead master!
After Jan was the annual award giving – people who have been incredibly valuable in the CFZ, a great helper, or a great speaker and explorer get acknowledged by being given a Golden Baboon award, and certificate. It’s typical tongue in cheek CFZ humour and honour.
The night ended with a documentary called ‘Heads!’ about the Hexham Heads and other mystery stone heads of North England. It must have gone for close to 2 hours. Some more raffle prizes were handed out, and then Silas Hawkins read out another ‘Bedtime story’ from Richard Freeman’s book ‘Green Unpleasant Land.’ It was my favourite story – Drakes Briar – which I found out was everyone else’s favourite too. Including Richard Freeman.
The Saturday Weird Weekend of 2012 ended at midnight, yet most people went straight to the bar. Another successful day!

MYTH - Yowie movie premieres in Sydney

The official poster.
Last Friday night some CFZers attended a private screening for actors, friends and family associated with the mockumentary Blair Witch-style MYTH movie, a creature feature starring Australia's very own hairy hominid horror the Yowie!

And they were in for a surprise because a very real and unintended special effect occurred while the film crew was shooting its movie overnight in rugged bushland.

Eight seconds of strange and compelling 'eye shine' (the visible effect of Tapitum Lucidum where the pupil of an animal appears to glow) was captured in the background, mystifying everyone as the images only came to light during the editing process, although some of the actors confessed to feeling uncomfortable filming at the location.

CFZ Australia will be getting hold of the footage shortly to share with readers of the blog.

Mike Williams and Rebecca Lang, authors of Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, attended the premiere, as did Neil and Sandy Frost, whose experiences in the Blue Mountains have become legendary themselves.

Mike was wrangled in as official 'creature adviser' for the film and his house featured as one of the sets for the 'Professor' character who, along with an American documentary maker, goes in search of the hairy myth of the Blue Mountains.

A prop from the film - not bad!
Here's the official blurb: "The film takes place in the summer of 2009 when a party of four people go in search of the legendary Yowie...They were never seen or heard from again...This film is actual recovered footage of their final days."

The horror film was highly enjoyable, and took the two men behind it - Justin and Rob of King Hit Productions - almost two years to bring to fruition. In that time they spent many days shooting in and around Hazelbrook, one of the well-known Yowie 'hot spots' in the World Heritage-listed wilderness an hour west of Sydney.

Drop by and Like their Facebook page. And stay tuned for more news!

We caught up with the men behind the film for a quick chat on the night...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

First day of the CFZ Weird Weekend...

Friday at the Weird Weekend 2012 in Woolfardisworthy

by Tania Poole - (the only member of CFZ Australia who could make it to North Devon this year.)

I arrived late on Wed night and slept in the lounge, promising to make cheese omelettes in the morning, which I did. The Thursday night cocktail party was a great success, even though the wind and the rain tried to spoil the fun – all those who attended gathered under the marquee in Jon’s backyard, While Matt Osbourne and sometimes Max Blake mixed the margaritas nowhere near like Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail.’  
While the weekend appeared to hold the promise of rain, we began the talks at 7pm by watching a video done by Jon, where he told a story about a sheep, a chupacabra and an alien coming to Woolsery for the Weird Weekend, with a song that he sung himself. It was typical Jon style music and video.
Richard Freeman began a talk about  ‘20 cryptids you’ve never heard of’ due to a cancelled talk, and half way through his list, was told he had 5 minutes to go. There certainly were cryptids I’ve never heard of, so the talk worked for me.
After a dinner break, we went back into the Hall to watch Paul Screeton ‘s ‘The Quest for the Hexham Heads,’ which I enjoyed because he went into detail about a few of the particular incidents that surrounded the heads. He even had two heads there – a clay one made in art class by Colin Robson, one of the boys who found original two the heads – he had made it in art class a couple of months before he moved to the house where he and his brother found the heads – the irony of this was added to the mystery. The second head was a carved one from concrete by the man who claimed to make the heads originally. Screeton had been given these heads back in the 70’s when he researched this strange incident. He even went into detail about the strange cryptid sightings that occurred to the neighbours (the half-man, half-sheep animal in the bedroom) and the Anne Ross Werewolf that was seen in her house more than once.
Screeton’s book ‘Hexham Heads’ has also been published by CFZ press and tonight was the book launch of it, so Screeton signed a few copies and showed off the two heads he had.
The final talk of the night was Richard Thorn’s ‘The Hunt for the Pink-headed Duck.’ Thorn has been to Burma 3 times looking for this duck, apparently became extinct in 1935. His third trip was only taken this year, and the successful part of the trip was when his two tour guides took him into the wilds of Burma where all the lakes were, and they met many locals who recognised the duck and had seen it only a few days ago. Thorn felt very close to the possibility of seeing it, but he had no success on this particular trip. He does know where to begin to look again, but due to the restrictions and laws of Burma at the moment, it might be hard to get into certain areas. You need a permit for a lot of things these days. Everyone enjoyed his talk immensely, and we all wished him the best with full support and encouragement.
The raffle later gave away about a 15 prizes – I won a lenticular puzzle and a zany colouring book. Great start to the Weird Weekend!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Travis Louie's ode to the Thylacine

Artist Travis Louie painted this lifelike portrait of a Thylacine for a recent art show.

Declared extinct in 1936, thousands of unconfirmed sightings have made the beautiful animal a darling of cryptozoology.

We love it!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Yowie looked like 'big black person'

"The trees...sounded like they were exploding, rather than being knocked over..." according to this witness, whose Blue Mountains yowie encounter left him shocked and shaken.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Does the Thylacine still roam Victoria?

Over at The Casey Weekly, the Thylacine is the talk of the town. Here's what report Catherine Watson had to say about it:

The Tasmanian tiger was declared officially extinct when the last zoo animal died in Hobart in 1936. But over the years there have been several possible sightings on the outskirts of Cranbourne.

An image of a Tasmanian tiger sticks in many people's minds. Pictured in the Hobart Zoo in 1936, the lone animal stares warily out of her cage, the last remnant of a doomed species. She died soon after the photo was taken.

The Tasmanian tiger haunts the Australian imagination as no other animal does. Perhaps it's because Australians watched it become extinct before their eyes and only realised when it was gone what they had lost.

Less than 30 years earlier, the Tasmanian government had been paying out a bounty on tigers. It wasn't until 1936 that it was gazetted as a protected species.

Even in the 1950s, 15 or 20 years after the animal had been declared nationally extinct, reports of possible sightings prompted carloads of men with dogs and guns to set out on tiger hunts. The hunts were always unsuccessful, and a question mark remains on whether the tiger survives on the mainland.

In June 2009, the Cranbourne Journal (predecessor of the Casey Weekly) ran an article on a possible sighting of a Tasmanian tiger crossing Chevron Avenue, Cranbourne South, in 2001. Another Cranbourne resident claimed to have seen a tiger in Tooradin in 2000.

But does it survive on the mainland? The Australian Rare Fauna Research Association has about 3800 mainland sightings of an animal answering the description of the tiger in its files.

ARFRA secretary Dorothy Williams says a quick search brings up reports from Crib Point (1973), Warneet (1997) and Tooradin (2000).

While this is no hot spot for sightings, there are clusters of sightings not far away in the Dandenongs to the north, part of the east coast of

Western Port, and south from Wonthaggi, among many more scattered Gippsland sightings.

"It's always possible that some unexpected event can send an animal away from its usual territory."

She says the accounts differ from one eyewitness to another, but two details are constant: vertical stripes on the animal's back and its peculiar gait. People often report that the animal they saw ran clumsily, and nothing like a dog or fox.

What the association doesn't have yet is a photograph, the remains of a tiger from the mainland or - best of all - a live animal.

DNA tests of such an animal would solve the final mystery: whether mainland tigers - if they exist - are related to Tasmanian tigers, whether they are remnants of a separated mainland population or whether they are a different but similar animal.

The association is careful in its use of language when talking about possible sighting. It does not claim that the tiger exists, only that it has too many credible reports to ignore the possibility.

In 1979, there was a much reported report of a Tasmanian tiger by fencing workers at Lang Lang early one morning. This is one of the few daytime reports, it was seen by several people and - very importantly - they hadn't been drinking.

DISTINGUISHING features of the thylacine:

■ Stripes across the rump and lower tail (in most individuals).

■ The thickness of the tail at the rump.

■ The low hock (heel).

■ Size: ranges from the size of a fox to a large German shepherd, depending on age and sex.

■ Colour: sandy to dark brown with darker stripes.

■ Gait: unusual, slow and clumsy to very fast, sometimes bounding or sitting up.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hidden camera footage proves healthy Tarkine Devils exist

The above, just released hidden camera footage provides new evidence that the area of the Tarkine Wilderness in Tasmania that Venture Minerals is trying to strip mine is home to a large population of healthy but vulnerable Tasmanian devils.

Conservationists from Code Green captured the footage.

Scientists tell us that the new roads and traffic created by strip mining the ancient Tarkine rainforest will increase the spread of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease - a deadly virus-like cancer that is already driving the Tasmanian devil population towards extinction.

What the devils need is Emergency Heritage Listing for the region they inhabit. This kind of listing would ensure the greatest amount of independent scientific scrunity possible is given to the proposed mines in the Tarkine. That's why we all need to take this opportunity to urge our local MPs to call on Tony Burke to take immediate action to protect the last healthy Tasmanian devils: 

As leading wildlife expert and former chief scientist in the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program Professor Hamish McCallum has said:

"There is sufficient evidence to suggest that it may threaten the survival of populations of Tasmanian devils in the area1."

Locals have been campaigning vigorously against Venture Minerals proposals to build three open cut and strip mines in the Tarkine, but now they need your support.

Our elected members right across the country have a responsibility to stand up for the things we care about. In non-election times the only way we can make sure they know what we want them to act on is to let them know directly, by telling them.

Send your MP a quick message asking them to lobby Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to urgently enact the Emergency Heritage Listing for the Tarkine!


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