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Williams and Lang’s Australian Big Cats: do pumas, giant feral cats and mystery marsupials stalk the Australian outback?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Virtually all people interested in animals are aware of the so-called ‘mystery big cat’ phenomenon. Large, often black, cats are reported with apparent frequency from the eastern USA and the UK. But the phenomenon isn’t unique to those two areas. Here, we’re going to look specifically at the ‘mystery big cat’ phenomenon in Australia. The Australian situation is familiar to those who follow the cryptozoological and fortean literature, but I’m not sure how well known it is otherwise. Suffice to say that big black and sandy coloured cats, and livestock kills attributed to them, have been a regular and consistent area of discussion across Australia for many decades. Do reported sightings, photos and pieces of film really show that big cats (or big cat-like mammals) are abroad in the Australian bush? If so, what precisely are these animals and where might they have come from?

A few good books have already reviewed Australian big cat sightings. Karl Shuker’s 1989 Mystery Cats of the World is a classic, and Tony Healy and Paul Cropper’s 1994 Out of the Shadows includes a good section on Australian big cats too. One of the most influential books on the subject is David O’Reilly’s 1981 Savage Shadow: the Search for the Australian Cougar [recently republished by Strange Nation Publishing; adjacent cover image of 1981 edition from Mike Williams’s Australian Big Cats blog]. O’Reilly’s book mostly centres around the experiences of those who clamed to have seen (or experienced the depredations of) the ‘Cordering Cougar’ in West Australia during the 1970s. One of the main contentions about the ‘puma’ phenomenon wasn’t just that people were seeing big, puma-like cats in the West Australian bush, but also that government officials were unwilling to investigate or make announcements about it. This apparent lack of government action has been a consistent theme throughout the Australian ‘mystery big cat’ experience.

A long term interest and involvement in Australian and world mysteries led Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang to research and produce what is now the definitive volume on Australian mystery big cats; it’s titled Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers (Williams & Lang 2010). At 434 pages, it’s substantial. It’s also highly readable, nicely formatted and very well illustrated. The authors have collated a vast amount of information gleaned not only from published sources but also from interviews with both eyewitnesses and people who have examined evidence firsthand. Williams and Lang clearly travelled widely across the country, photographing locations, people, documents, taxiderm specimens and so on at what must have been great personal expense. They obtained freedom of information acts and other previously undisclosed documents. A lengthy appendix (c. 120 pages) includes copies of numerous letters and documents produced by government officials, veterinarians, ecologists, geneticists and others. The volume is fully referenced (though with the citations given at the bottom of the respective pages, rather than at the end of the text) and with an index.

So, to anyone seriously interested in mystery animals, mystery big cats or Australian mammals in general, this book is a must-have. Never before has so much data been gathered together on the subject: well done to the authors on this substantial achievement. [Graphic below borrowed from Centre for Fortean Zoology Australia].

Map of Victoria showing locations of reported sightings. From a May 2010 newspaper article.

There are wild big cats in Australia

As I (generally) always say when talking about mystery animals, remember that these phenomena aren’t just interesting because there might be real, flesh-and-blood animals at the bottom of the reports: even if there are not, mystery animal sightings, accounts and stories are still fascinating and research-worthy subjects, combining as they do psychology, sociology, folklore and human observational skills and biases. Remember that some people who would ordinarily be labelled cryptozoologists are quite happy to be regarded as folklorists.

However, while the mystery big cat phenomenon does indeed involve sociology and folklore, there’s no doubt that at least some sightings involve real animals. Large (sometimes black) feral dogs and dingoes, foxes and even wallabies explain some ‘big cats’ sightings, but not all of them. Australian big cats aren’t just represented by eyewitness accounts and hazy photos, but by some pretty good photos, and also by a number of dead bodies. Let’s look at some of these cases.

The St Arnaud puma, shot in 1924.

Among the more impressive photos is that taken by Barry Morris in 1978 near Carnarvon in West Australia. It shows a big, black cat walking along the top of a hillside, its long, cylindrical tail held in a curve up over its rump. A puma that escaped from a travelling circus, and lived wild for a time, was shot at St Arnaud in Victoria in 1924 while another puma was shot at Woodend, Victoria, during the 1960s. The Woodend animal was stuffed and then pretty much forgotten about until 2005. And in 1985, a lioness – the ‘Broken Hill lioness’ – was shot in New South Wales. This case has become notorious due to its apparent lack of investigation by the Department of Agriculture (Williams & Lang 2010). Remarkably, vocalisations apparently made by large cats living wild in the Australian bush have been caught on tape at least twice.

Footprint cast at Hawkesbury, NSW, in 2011, and thought to have been made by an animal that killed a captive alpaca. Sure looks like a large felid print to me.

Various footprints, scat and large animal kills attributed to big cats have also been recorded [adjacent footprint photo from here]. Williams & Lang (2010) publish many of these. Many of the tracks do look unmistakeably cat-like, and vets, ecologists, professional mammalogists and government officials are on record as saying that large cats are indeed the most likely, or only likely, culprits (Williams & Lang 2010, pp. 253-272). As Williams & Lang (2010) explain, some of the more positive assessments (including those penned by Charles Sturt University ecologist Johannes Bauer, Deakin University’s John Henry, and veterinarians Keith Hart and Ron Hynes) have been essentially buried or kept quiet by some of the governmental bodies that have been asked by farmers and stock-owners to investigate. So, there are non-native big cats running around in the Australian outback, at least sometimes.

The so-called 'Territory Tiger': a sandy-coloured cat, photographed by Jan Donovan in 2007. It looks large but it's just about impossible to accurately judge scale. It might be a puma or a large, skinny feral.

Pumas, moggies, marsupials: competing or overlapping hypotheses of origin

Black jaguar photographed in captivity. There's something weird about this animal's tail.

In my view, the Australian ‘mystery big cat’ phenomenon is made especially interesting by the fact that three very different hypotheses have been invoked to explain the identity of the creatures involved. Some researchers contend that two or even all three of these hypotheses have merit.

Hypothesis 1 is that some or all of the cats are the descendants of military mascots or escapees from circuses, private collections, zoos and so on [adjacent Black jaguar photo by Cburnett]. They thus represent pumas from the America, lions from Africa, leopards from Africa or Asia, and so on. Hypothesis 2 is that feral cats have grown to extraordinary size in the Australian bush, and that these monster moggies account for some or all ‘big cat’ sightings. Hypothesis 3 – the most extreme and interesting idea, I think – is that some of the animals are not cats at all, but big, cat-like marsupials that either represent new species, or late-surviving members of one of the thylacoleonid (= marsupial lion) taxa.

As should be clear from what I’ve already said, I think we can be pretty confident that some sightings of Australian big cats really do represent encounters with lions, pumas and members of other species (perhaps including Golden cat, Jaguar and even Tiger). What about hypothesis 2? Long-time readers will recall my ‘Australia’s new feral megacats’ article of 2007. Various photos and bits of film seem to show feral cats – that is, members of the same species as the domestic cat (Felis catus or whatever you choose to call it) – that are extraordinarily big, with shoulder heights of about 60 cm and total lengths exceeding 1.5 m.

Kurt Engel, a dead megacat, and a lot of forced perspective.

Two keys bits of evidence in particular seem to support the ‘feral mega-cat’ hypothesis. One is the cat shot dead by hunter Kurt Engel in Gippsland, Victoria, in 2005. This animal was claimed to be somewhere round about 1.6 m long (in Williams & Lang (2010), Engel says that it was over 2 m long in total), with its tail alone being 60 cm in length. The fact that Engel discarded the body and deliberately used forced perspective in his photos of the carcass haven’t exactly helped add credibility to the case, but a photo published by Williams & Lang (2010) does seem to support these rough measurements. Williams & Lang (2010) cover this case at some length and explain how they helped arrange for DNA testing on tissue from the animal’s tail. These tests (the reports are included in the volume’s appendices) identified the animal as Felis catus.

Still from the 'Lithgow panther' footage.

The second bit of evidence is the so-called ‘Lithgow panther’ footage, filmed in 2001 by Gail and Wayne Pound at Lithgow, New South Wales. After catching sight of a surprisingly large black cat in the scrub near their house, the Pounds decided to film it and managed to get 15 minutes of footage. The cat was in close association with a normal-sized feral cat, yet (as demonstrated by people who visited the site and measured the height of adjacent vegetation) had a shoulder height of about 50 cm and hence was more like a puma in size (shoulder height 60-70 cm) than a domestic cat (shoulder height 25-30 cm).

Opinion differs as to whether the existence of these really big feral cats is remarkable or not. I think it’s at least very interesting, in part because I find appealing the idea that something about the Australian ecosystem is encouraging large size in some Australian feral cat populations. And once a cat of any sort approaches or exceeds a metre in total length, people who see it will refer to it as a ‘big cat’. So, some ‘big cats’ are not big cats in the strict sense at all, but big ‘small cats’.

Modern marsupial lions and other marvels

Cartoon showing (l to r) big black cat, Queensland tiger as reconstructed by Heuvelmans, the Rilla Martin animal, and a thylacine.

Hypothesis 3 rests on the idea that a few eyewitnesses have described animals that, while cat-like, supposedly exhibit weird, sometimes marsupial-like traits. A few decades ago, the idea that a long-tailed, stripy, leopard-sized Australian animal might exist in Queensland (and perhaps elsewhere) was fairly popular (Heuvelmans 1995). Dubbed the ‘Queensland tiger’, it was regarded by some as a possible living species of marsupial lion (a group of extinct marsupials, properly called thylacoleonids, otherwise thought to have become extinct during the Pleistocene: see this article for more) (Shuker 1989, Healy & Cropper 1994). Alas, the idea that the Queensland tiger was real has mostly fallen away now given the total absence of material evidence, photos and recent eyewitness accounts.

But while belief in the Queensland tiger has mostly evaporated, it’s thought by some cryptozoologists that various of the black or tan-coloured Australian ‘big cats’ might be marsupial lions too. I learnt of this idea from both Healy & Cropper (1994) and from Rex Gilroy’s terrible but entertaining book Mysterious Australia. Among the various tales that Gilroy recounts is one where the witness describes seeing a rear-facing pouch and joey in a big black ‘cat’ (Gilroy 1995). The witness surmised – and Gilroy agreed – that at least some Australian ‘big cats’ are not cats at all, but extant marsupial lions. That’s pretty neat stuff; shame that other Australian researchers have failed to record similar accounts, or indeed to verify the existence of the witnesses that Gilroy quoted… though read on.

Rilla Martin's 1964 'Ozenkadnook tiger' photo.

The face of 'Jaws'. Poor puss.

Williams and Lang devote a chapter to the supposed existence of modern day, thylacoleonid-like predators. Some of my favourite cases included in this chapter include Rilla Martin’s creature, photographed in 1964 and previously covered here on Tet Zoo, and the ‘Jaws’ carcass, found on a beach sometime in the 1980s (Shuker 1996, Williams & Lang 2010) and suggested by some writers to be a dead thylacoleonid (as the authors note, and as I hoped to demonstrate, it was actually just a dead domestic cat). Incidentally, thanks to the authors, I’ve actually gotten to see a filmed interview with Rilla Martin where she describes her encounter. It was very interesting to see her recount the tale in her own words. [Thylacoleo image below by Karora, from wikipedia.]

Thylacoleo skeleton, on display at Naracoorte Caves. Photo by Karora.

A few accounts, photos and bits of film are highly intriguing in view of ‘hypothesis 3’. Williams & Lang (2010) might not verify Rex Gilroy’s accounts, but they do provide some equally surprising ones. A farmer, searching for a missing cow in 2005, found that it had been severely wounded by a broad-headed predator, still in attendance, that “seemed to have some marsupial-like attributes” and was long-bodied, short-legged and long and thick in the tail. The cow’s calf had been killed. The photo taken in 1981 by Martin Williams as she “wandered down to the lagoon on her Moyston, Victoria property to take photographs one afternoon” (p. 205) is peculiar. The photo isn’t great (the animal is facing away from the photographer and its outlines are hard to demarcate from the waterhole behind it), but the animal’s apparently muscular hindlimbs and short, very slender tail don’t look right for a cat, dog or just about anything else you might think of.

There’s also a very odd piece of film taken in 1994 (stills are provided in the book) where a stocky, short-tailed animal with a distinctive gait and deep, boxy head runs alongside some overgrown railway tracks. The animal looks weird and I could probably convince myself that it doesn’t represent a big cat, feral dog or a member of any other known species. However, as is typical for footage of this sort, the animal is at a distance, the footage is fuzzy, and I conclude that it’s probably not possible to say for sure just what the animal is.

And what to make of the weird, bushy-tailed animal – apparently a predatory marsupial of some sort – described by Gary Opit after his 1969 night-time encounter? Based on Opit’s (not wholly unique) account, the animal couldn’t have been a surviving thylacine or anything known to be alive today.

Gary Opit's weird, bushy-tailed ?marsupial. From Williams & Lang (2010).

Necessary pedantry: things to dislike

There are a few things that I really don’t like about Australian Big Cats. The book includes a huge number of photos, eyewitness drawings and other illustrations – that’s great. But I often found it difficult to relate the figures to the nearby text, and to find that specific part of the text that describes something shown in one of the figures. So things would have really been improved had the figures been numbered (as in: Fig. 1, etc.). I’m also not too keen on the way the figures are presented. All too often, they’re reproduced at tiny size and the details are hard to make out due to their reproduction in black and white. To make matters worse, virtually all of the images have thick white borders round their edges. These serve only to make the images even smaller. So, bigger, clearer pictures would have been nice. Given that the book is already 437 pages long, you might think that the authors (and/or the designers) were very keen to do things not to make it any larger. But this brings us to another issue – the extraordinary amount of wasted space in this book.

Firstly, there are many sections where the authors write in short, one-sentence paragraphs. That works for a tabloid newspaper, but not for a detailed tome such as this where it can be assumed that the reader has an attention span exceeding a few seconds. This style of writing also ruins the flow of the text and creates a lot of wasted space on the page. Demonstrating to your prospective readership that you have the facts and figures at your fingertips – especially when writing about something as controversial and problematic as Australian big cats – is half the battle, and I feel that this is destroyed by this kind of choppy, disjointed writing. I’m sure I’m not alone in disliking a book once I see that much of it is empty (to anyone with the book at hand: random examples include pages 163, 234, 241 and 284).

This spacey look isn’t just created by the disjointed writing style; it’s exacerbated by the book’s design. I just do not understand why some publishers choose to waste enormous amounts of paper by designing books where the pages have huge, bland borders. Granted, you don’t want text to disappear in the recesses of the book’s spine, and there has to be enough room for the reader’s fingers, but… come on: each and every page in Australian Big Cats includes a 35 mm border at the bottom, a 42 mm border at the top, a 25 mm border on the right, and a 17 mm border on the left! Again, I dislike this sort of thing because it creates an airy, data-free look to a volume.

l to r: Mike Williams, Darren Naish, Rebecca Lang. Hopefully we're still friends.

As I hope is clear from this review, overall I found Australian Big Cats an impressive piece of work. The amount of research involved in its production was clearly vast, and the authors did a great job in presenting the enormous body of data they collected in a readable, enjoyable format. Williams and Lang have also done us all a great service in going ‘straight to source’ behind the scenes by digging out previously unreleased documents using freedom of information requests and so on. As outlined above, I do wish that Australian Big Cats had been presented in a different, in general ‘more technical’, way, but I say again that it is, to date, the ultimate book on the subject and one that should definitely be consulted by anyone seriously interested in Australian cryptozoology, or indeed in cat lore or biology in general. Given that Australian ‘big cats’ – whatever they are – have received all too little ‘official’ attention, will this huge book be the catalyst that helps break down the stigma that still surrounds this fascinating subject?

Williams, M. & Lang, R. 2010. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation, Hazelbrook, NSW. ISBN 978-0-646-53007-9. Softback. References. Index. Illustrations. 437 pp.

For more on Australian mystery animals see…

And for previous Tet Zoo articles on cats worldwide, see…

Refs – -

Gilroy, R. 1995. Mysterious Australia. Nexus Publications, Mapleton, Queensland.

Healy, T. & Cropper, P. 1994. Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia. Ironbark, Chippendale, Australia.

Heuvelmans, B. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. Kegan Paul International, London.

Shuker, K. P. N. 1989. Mystery Cats of the World. Robert Hale, London.

- . 1996. The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Natural and Paranormal Mysteries. Carlton, London.

Williams, M. & Lang, R. 2010. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation, Hazelbrook, NSW.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com!

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The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. llewelly 7:04 am 02/13/2012

    It seems to me the “obvious” explanation for the unusually large domestic cats of Australia is the Kodiak Bear effect; there is a great deal of easy to catch (for a cat) protein available. And nothing preys on the cats. (Aside from the occasional panther …) The fact that feral (and also not feral) domestic cats are devastating the local wildlife is well-recorded.

    I put “obvious” in quotes because these things are rarely so simple, and I doubt this case is any different. Thoughts?

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  2. 2. Jerzy New 7:20 am 02/13/2012

    How long exactly was “some time” which these escaped pumas and lioness lived in the wild?

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  3. 3. Jerzy New 7:23 am 02/13/2012

    Interesting thing is, that “feral big cats” are not much seen in Continental Europe, where people can meet real wild lynxes. Instead, there are “feral crocodiles” and sometimes “feral apes”. Do you plan to cover these, too?

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  4. 4. Jerzy New 7:37 am 02/13/2012

    PS2. Hawkesbury footprint is a domestic dog. Cat footprints have phalanges set well apart from a footpad, are broader and assymetrical.

    Of course, it might possibly be a little known marsupial wozzle. Thylacowozlines are result of convergent evolution and competitors of Australian drop bear.

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  5. 5. Dartian 8:29 am 02/13/2012

    big black and sandy coloured cats

    Has any biologically plausible explanation as for why these so-called mystery cats are so disproportionately often black ever been offered by anyone? Why does it seem that hardly anyone ever encounters – let alone photographs – regular spotted leopards & jaguars in the Australian bush (or in the UK and elsewhere where big cats aren’t supposed to be)? Were I cynical, I would be tempted to guess that it’s because it’s easier to retouche/photoshop black-coloured objects in photographs…

    in 1985, a lioness – the ‘Broken Hill lioness’ – was shot in New South Wales. This case has become notorious due to its apparent lack of investigation by the Department of Agriculture

    What happened to the carcass?

    vocalisations apparently made by large cats living wild in the Australian bush have been caught on tape at least twice

    Which big cat species’ vocalisations, exactly?

    The so-called ‘Territory Tiger’: a sandy-coloured cat, photographed by Jan Donovan in 2007. It looks large but it’s just about impossible to accurately judge scale. It might be a puma or a large, skinny feral.

    That’s in all likelihood just a (feral?) moggie. It’s definitely not a puma. Relative to the body, the head is too large, and the limbs and the tail, respectively, are too short and slender; also, the tail does not seem to have a dark tip like the tails of pumas usually do. Compare and contrast the ‘TT’ with this, for example.

    More generally on the Australian ABC sightings: if we accept that some of these are indeed genuine observations of various exotic felid species that have either escaped from captivity or been deliberately let loose, then where do all these cats originally come from? Zoos aside, what individuals/which institutions keep exotic felid species in Australia? Surely the authorities must keep some track of that? Aside from the fact that Australia is a signatory of CITES (which, IIRC, covers all or nearly all wild felid species), the rules and regulations concerning the importation of any kind of exotic species into Australia are among the strictest in the world (in order to keep put rabies and other nasty diseases). Thus, surely those exotic felid species individuals that are in Australia legally* should, at least in theory, be accounted for?

    * Of course, people may be bringing exotic felids into Australia illegally. But even then I’d expect there to exist some actual, official data (such as: How many people have been arrested/convicted for trying to smuggle live exotic felids into Australia? Which species were they trying to smuggle?). What does the Williams & Lang book say on the subject of known instances of importations of exotic felids into Australia?

    Jerzy:
    Hawkesbury footprint is a domestic dog. Cat footprints have phalanges set well apart from a footpad, are broader and assymetrical.

    I have to agree with Jerzy regarding the (a)symmetry issue; the print does indeed look more like a dog’s than a cat’s to me (the lack of claw marks notwithstanding).

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  6. 6. Finback 8:33 am 02/13/2012

    The big problem with the “escaped circus animal/mascot” argument, as covered by Cropper and Healy, is that there are always older stories, even back into the 1800s, so if there are big cats (which personally, I think there are), they’ve been here much longer than most of the anecdotal material would suggest. Hypothesis 2 has a reasonable supporting model, with many feral cats growing larger than the parent stock within a few generations, plus there is some evidence suggesting they have been here longer than the late 1700s – the main gist is that Dutch explorers who landed on the western coast may have lost some ships’ cats. Hypothesis 3 would be great, but many of the sightings fit a placental feline better – and with Gilroy, you soon often find yourself questioning anything he’s written, once you get to learn about his multiple yowie and sea monster sightings, his hidden Egyptian pyramids, his _Megalania_ running free throughout Queensland, and his prehistoric colonial _Homo erectus_ ‘fossils’.

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  7. 7. Heteromeles 10:16 am 02/13/2012

    @llewelly. The one problem with the “island giant” moggie hypothesis is that (AFAIK), it hasn’t happened elsewhere, and cats have been introduced into a lot of islands. They’ve also been bred into a number of varieties, and the biggest so far (again, AFAIK) is the Main Coon. It’s big, but it’s no puma.

    I’ll admit, I read your “Kodiak Bear” as “Kodak Bear,” as I was thinking that things like forced perspective might account for more of the giant cats than actual island gigantism.

    The other issue with the CITES law is that having the laws on the books is one thing, but enforcing them is quite another. When I’m wearing my conservationist hat, I *routinely* deal with inadequately enforced laws, and sometimes with municipalities that deliberately hire under-qualified staff and keep their budgets low, just so they can have a sparkling environmental record.

    While I’m not going to accuse Australia of gross incompetence here, people can start checking, simply by asking for the stats on the numbers of exotic carnivores kept in Australia. If those numbers are publicly available on a website, kept up to date, and there’s a staff behind them that appears competent, then their assertions are believable. If the stats are hard or impossible to find, there’s little evidence of enforcement, and there’s other evidence of a posterior-protection mentality in the agencies responsible for oversight, then it’s plausible to assume that Australia isn’t keeping good CITES records, and that their silence in these cases is due to a CYA culture in the enforcement agencies.

    Finally, I’d point out that researchers can get good DNA from scat, so anyone who wants to get the real poop on these animals should endeavor to do so, and to enlist some college students looking for a little research project to analyze it for them.

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  8. 8. Dartian 10:17 am 02/13/2012

    Finback:
    many feral cats growing larger than the parent stock within a few generations

    But just how much larger are Australian feral cats? (Let’s ignore any unsubstantiated anecdotes for the moment.) I know that there have been plenty of studies on feral cats in Australia, so surely there must be some actual data on this?

    I ask because, given what we do know about the ecology of feral cats in Australia, I don’t quite see why natural selection would have caused such a dramatic size increase so rapidly. Feral cats in Australia prey on (the also introduced) rabbits where these occur, but cats are also known to be able to subsist on much smaller prey items, such as lizards and even insects. (This ability, incidentally, seems to give cats something of an edge in the interspecific competition with red foxes in Australia; the foxes are apparently much more dependent on rabbits than the cats are.) Therefore, it would seem to me that in the harsh conditions of the Australian outback, natural selection should not be expected to favour a significantly greater body size in cats, as not only would it bring them into more direct competition for food with foxes (and dingoes) but also reduce their ability to switch to smaller fallback prey items such as lizards.

    Or, to put it differently: from an ecological point of view, I would not expect Australian feral cats to typically get ‘extraordinarily big’.

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  9. 9. Dartian 10:30 am 02/13/2012

    Heteromeles:
    The other issue with the CITES law is that having the laws on the books is one thing, but enforcing them is quite another.

    Granted, and I’m very much aware that illegal trade in animals takes place at a depressingly huge scale.

    But in this case I was specifically thinking of big cats: pumas, leopards, lions, etc. They are large, noisy, conspicuous animals that a smuggler can’t just hide under his shirt or something. (Except if they are tiny juveniles, but in that case, they’d need constant feeding and attention.) Thus, I’d like to think/hope that the numbers of live exotic felids that are successfully sneaked from abroad into Australia are not exceptionally great.

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  10. 10. Heteromeles 11:10 am 02/13/2012

    @Dartian: I hope so too. Unfortunately, after that mess in Ohio, where all the (captive-bred) big cats were shot after their owner let them loose and committed suicide, all I can say is that there seem to be more individuals of some species in captivity than in the wild, and the laws seem to be very unevenly enforced, at least in the US.

    This is a blog, so all I’m going to do is briefly speculate here. Anyone who’s seriously interested in researching Australian big cats really should look at the enforcement end too, because it actually back-stops biological hypotheses about what those animals really are.

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  11. 11. David Marjanović 12:48 pm 02/13/2012

    Thylacowozlines are result of convergent evolution and competitors of Australian drop bear.

    Liar! Nothing competes with the drop-bear.

    Or, to put it differently: from an ecological point of view, I would not expect Australian feral cats to typically get ‘extraordinarily big’.

    I wouldn’t expect their size range to shift to larger sizes – but I would expect their size range to increase, because, unlike dingoes and foxes, cats can climb, and at least unlike dingoes, they’re ambushing, grapple-and-slash predators, not pursuit-and-bite predators.

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  12. 12. vdinets 1:43 pm 02/13/2012

    The attitude shown by the authorities seems to be impressively consistent worldwide. US Fish and Wildlife has recently declared the Eastern cougar extinct despite solid evidence of its presence in the Maritimes and countless sightings in the US.

    BTW, it looks like jaguarundi sightings are on the increase in Georgia and Alabama. They are supposed to be from the introduced population in central Florida, although (a) the existence of this population has never been formally acknowledged, and (b) nobody has ever proven that it’s introduced. (I have a pretty good photo of jaguarundi tracks from Archbold Biological Station in central Florida, so at least I can be sure that it does exist). I strongly suspect that the population is native. There are small remnant populations of other Neotropical spp. in the same area: the crested caracara, the burrowing owl, and so on.

    Jerzy: the most obvious difference between cat and dog tracks is that cat track don’t normally show claw marks. The track on “Tracking the cat” image seems to be canine, the Hawkesbury cast looks like a typical big cat to me.

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  13. 13. naishd 2:10 pm 02/13/2012

    I am generally suspicious of people’s expertise when they state flatly that a print is definitely cat or definitely dog (especially when it comes to ‘mystery big cat’ evidence, since some people display ridiculous bias and arrogance on this subject). There is in fact substantial overlap between large cat and large dog prints and it’s often not possible to be sure unless conditions are 100% ideal, which they never are. Cat prints are generally broader than those of dogs and with a more distinctly trilobed posterior margin to the plantar pad. Cat toe pads are often shorter than those of dogs, claw marks are typically absent, and the middle two toe pads are more obviously set ‘ahead’ of the outside toe pads in dogs but not in cats (when claw marks are present in cat prints, they reveal sharp, narrow, blade-like marks, not the broader, blunter ones left by dogs. Some dogs have such fat toe pads that their claws sometimes fail to leave marks). Also, while the anterior part of the plantar pad (the bit that projects between the toes) is typically rounded or pointed in dogs, in cats it is typically squared-off or with an anterior concavity. Cats often have a leading second toe that dog’s generally don’t. Finally, the different configurations of the toe and plantar pads mean that straight lines drawn between the left-side outermost toe pad and adjacent middle one, and right-side outermost toe pad and adjacent middle one, tend to pass out between the outermost toe pads and the sides of the plantar pad in dogs, whereas those lines intersect on the anterior part of the plantar pad in cats. If we apply ALL of this information to the Hawkesbury print shown above – - while we cannot be sure, it sure looks more like a cat print than a dog one. The print shown on the ‘Tracking the cat’ newspaper graphic looks like a dog print.

    Darren

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  14. 14. Zoovolunteer 2:35 pm 02/13/2012

    Given what other introduced animals are around in Oz I do not find the idea of alien big cats nearly as unbelievable as I do for the UK. A few years ago a pigmy hippo (!) was shot by a hunter in Queensland who mistook it for a wild pig, and I believe there is a small introduced population of Ostrich as well. Whether it is a breeding population of puma is another matter…

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  15. 15. ThyTwoThou 2:39 pm 02/13/2012

    Darren, I respectfully disagree with you on the Rilla Martin pic discussion from your older linked thread.

    I think the alleged “support structure” by the left hind limb is just a stick; if it really were an external artificial support, given its weird position and the much larger size of the critter as a whole it’s hard to believe it would have done much supporting.

    No, I’m quite convinced the Martin pic is genuine. I recommend digitally inverting all of the colors and re-examining it that way – this helps remove some of the natural camouflage elements as well as some of the vegetative overlays that confuse the eye.

    This picture is maddening both because it really does look like an unknown large land mammal, and because, as others noted in your SciBlogs thread, the habitat has been devastated in the subsequent 50 years.

    It is the implacable truth to the quote from Bernard Heuvelmans about Australian cryptids:

    “Someday we’ll find a yellowed thylacoleo skull on the wall of some old-time prospecter, and he’ll say yes, ages ago his grandfather killed the thing, at the edge of a rainforest that no longer exists. And he will smile his maddening smile and we will never know.”

    Heuvelmans wrote that nearly 60 years ago. And he was right. We will never know.

    This is why I gave up on cryptozoology.

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  16. 16. naishd 2:40 pm 02/13/2012

    Zoovolunteer (comment 14): even better – there’s the population of Banteng on the Cobourg Peninsula (c. 10000 animals) that was officially unknown (and totally unreported) between the 1860s and 1948.

    Darren

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  17. 17. Jerzy New 2:56 pm 02/13/2012

    @dnaish and vdinets
    Please do quick google for “leopard footprints” “puma footprint” etc and you will see that it is not any species of big cat.

    @David Marjanovic
    It is also possible for especially agile ropen to snatch prey right from under attacking drop bear.

    Ropens are also main predators of juvenile drop bears. They ambush them when the bears are dropping, and being in freefall are practically defenceless.

    Have you recently seen photos of juvenile drop bears? No? So this is a sure proof that ropens exist.

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  18. 18. naishd 4:47 pm 02/13/2012

    Jerzy: no offence, but I question your expertise. I’ll say again that it’s never a good sign when someone is ultra-confident about the identification of a single dodgy track :)

    Darren

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  19. 19. vdinets 8:44 pm 02/13/2012

    Jerzy: actually, it is pretty consistent with a puma track (except for the pointed plantar pad, but this might be a photo artefact). Keep in mind that footprints are highly variable between individual animals, as well as within the same trackway (for example, toes are flexible so toepads can leave prints at different distances from the plantar pad). Also, a lot of pix you get from Google image search are misidentified or mislabeled.

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  20. 20. Dartian 2:52 am 02/14/2012

    Vladimir:
    There are small remnant populations of other Neotropical spp. in the same area: the crested caracara, the burrowing owl, and so on.

    The burrowing owl is not an originally Neotropical species. Genetic (and fossil) data suggest that it originated in North America (Desmond et al., 2001).

    Also, both the owl and the caracara can fly. Are there any supposed ‘Neotropical remnant’ vertebrate species in Florida that are flightless?

    Reference:
    Desmond, M.J., Parsons, T.J., Powers, T.O. & Savidge, J.A. 2001. An initial examination of mitochondrial DNA structure in burrowing owl populations. Journal Of Raptor Research 35, 274-281.

    Darren:
    I’ll say again that it’s never a good sign when someone is ultra-confident about the identification of a single dodgy track

    The track isn’t the only thing that’s dodgy about this Hawkesbury account.

    The original news report states that there were canine teeth marks on the alpaca’s head that were “about 7cm wide”. That’s about two or three cm too wide for a puma (or a leopard or even a jaguar, for that matter); among extant felids, it’s only in adult lions and tigers that the distance between the (upper) canine teeth is that wide. And there’s no way that Hawkesbury print/cast belongs to an adult lion or a tiger – it’s much too small for that (we have a human hand for scale in the photo). Something’s seriously fishy here.

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  21. 21. naishd 4:12 am 02/14/2012

    Dartian: I agree, that 7 cm measurement is crazy. But did they meant that the holes were 7 cm in diameter, or that the width between the teeth was 7 cm? I actually assumed the latter, in which case the marks are consistent with a large cat, though one larger than a puma (4.5-5 cm between upper canines) and smaller than an adult leopard (10-15 cm between upper canines). In domestic dogs the distance is less than 5 cm, though it can be as much as 6.5 cm in some gigantic breeds.

    Darren

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  22. 22. Jerzy New 4:39 am 02/14/2012

    There is a number of good guides to animal signs and tracks of both North America and South Africa. Some even online on Google books. Really little room for mysteries here.

    @vdinets
    Indeed, when you search for “puma footprint” in the internet, there come several dog tracks from BBC articles of mystery cats from Britain. :-)

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  23. 23. Dartian 5:17 am 02/14/2012

    Darren:
    did they meant that the holes were 7 cm in diameter, or that the width between the teeth was 7 cm?

    The latter. And they specifically said they were canine teeth marks. This is the exact quote as it appeared in the online version of the Hawkesbury Gazette (irrelevant parenthesis snipped):

    “There were four canine [...] teeth marks on the alpaca about 7cm wide – two on the top of the head and two below the jaw.”

    in which case the marks are consistent with a large cat

    Not unless you mean lion or tiger they aren’t. As I said in my previous comment, a puma’s (upper) canines are not that far apart from each other, so there is no way that a puma’s bite could leave two canine teeth puncture wounds that are 7 cm apart. (Indeed, even a puma’s rostrum is hardly that wide!)

    Just to be crystal clear regarding what’s meant by width between the canines, see this figure (it compares lion, Panthera atrox, tiger, and jaguar; no puma, alas, but a puma’s skull would be about the size of the jaguar’s, or smaller). Note the scale bar.

    In other words: if the information presented in the newspaper is taken at face value, then the options in this Hawkesbury case would seem to be a) lion, b) tiger, or c) hoax.

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  24. 24. David Marjanović 7:58 am 02/14/2012

    This picture is maddening both because it really does look like an unknown large land mammal, and because, as others noted in your SciBlogs thread, the habitat has been devastated in the subsequent 50 years.

    Seconded.

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  25. 25. vdinets 1:46 pm 02/14/2012

    Dartian: are you sure that jaguarundis didn’t originate in North America?
    Anyway, there are non-volant relict species in Florida with the closest relatives in the Southwest/Mexico, i. e. gopher tortoise and Florida worm lizard. Until recently, there were also jaguars and giant sloths.

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  26. 26. llewelly 3:38 pm 02/14/2012

    @Heteromeles:

    First, thank you for pointing out that feral cats don’t grow so large on any other island. That does show island gigantism is either wrong or insufficient.

    Heteromeles: “They’ve also been bred into a number of varieties, and the biggest so far (again, AFAIK) is the Main Coon. It’s big, but it’s no puma. ”

    The large feral domestic cats of Australia are not puma sized either; the very largest are about 1.6m (including tail, and note I don’t accept Engel’s 2m claim, given that more reliable people describe it as 1.6m), of which there are at best a bare handful of (not very reliable) reports. Among pumas, in contrast, 1.5m is the *bottom* of the size range for healthy adults.

    Notice the emphasis given to the video which shows a feral moggie twice the size of a regular moggie. This is clearly considered fairly important, but in fact Maine Coons will reach 100 cm (including tail), and the very largest Main Coons are about 120 cm (Wikipedia) , while ordinary cats are usually much closer to 50-55 cm (again including tail). A tiny minority at the extreme upper edge of size match the lower range of healthy adult puma sizes, but it can’t be said the population as a whole does; it seems most are about the size of a Maine Coon, or perhaps slightly larger.

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  27. 27. llewelly 3:43 pm 02/14/2012

    Er, a paragraph break and some text got lost in my last comment. I intended:

    Notice the emphasis given to the video which shows a feral moggie twice the size of a regular moggie. This is clearly considered fairly important, but in fact Maine Coons will reach 100 cm (including tail), and the very largest Main Coons are about 120 cm (Wikipedia) , while ordinary cats are usually much closer to 50-55 cm (again including tail). This implies Australian ferals of impressive size are comparable to Maine Coons in size.

    It seems to me a tiny minority of Australian ferals at the extreme upper edge of size match the lower range of healthy adult puma sizes, but it can’t be said the population as a whole does; it seems most are about the size of a Maine Coon, or perhaps slightly larger.

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  28. 28. llewelly 10:25 pm 02/14/2012

    “This picture is maddening both because it really does look like an unknown large land mammal, and because, as others noted in your SciBlogs thread, the habitat has been devastated in the subsequent 50 years.”

    You’ve blogged about and participated in efforts to use the statistics of past discoveries to estimate species remaining to be discovered, of various sorts of vertebrates. Similar methods could be used to estimate the number species which went extinct before they could be recognized scientifically. Of course the results might be even /more/ maddening …

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  29. 29. llewelly 10:26 pm 02/14/2012

    Er, I meant Darren has blogged about and participated in. Tonight is my night for fumbles, it seems.

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  30. 30. Dartian 4:20 am 02/15/2012

    Vladimir:
    are you sure that jaguarundis didn’t originate in North America?

    Jaguarundis are (almost?*) completely absent from the North American Plio-Pleistocene fossil record. Ray (1964) did claim to have identified a fossil jaguarundi from the Pleistocene of Florida, but Gillette (1976) later reassigned this specimen to another species, which he named Felis amnicola. Later still, Werdelin (1985) showed that “Felis amnicola” is most likely identical with the extant margay Leopardus wiedii.

    * The only possible jaguarundi fossils currently known from the United States are from a Pleistocene cave site in Pennsylvania (of all places). However, Werdelin (1985) considered the identification of these fossils as jaguarundis as doubtful.

    Thus, there is no fossil/subfossil evidence that jaguarundis have ever been present in Florida, although jaguars, ocelots, and margays (Werdelin, 1985; Morgan & Emslie, 2010) are all known as fossils from this state. In light of this fact, it seems that if there really is a jaguarundi population currently living in Florida (and perhaps in other southeastern states), then the possibility that it has resulted from recent introduction by humans should be considered the most likely explanation. If, on the other hand, jaguarundis really are native to Florida, then they should be genetically distinct. In other words, their DNA is required to settle this matter. Tracks and observations won’t be enough, I’m afraid.

    Oh, and as for extant mammals generally (to answer my own earlier question): there are no species that are found both in the Neotropical Region and only in Florida within the the Nearctic Region (Morgan & Emslie, 2010). One bat species was once thought to be an exception, but the Florida population did turn out to be a distinct, Florida-endemic species (Timm & Genoways, 2004).

    there are non-volant relict species in Florida with the closest relatives in the Southwest/Mexico

    But, as originally specified by you, this was supposed to be a faunal comparison between Florida and the Neotropics. The US Southwest and northern Mexico belong to the Nearctic Region.

    References:
    Gillette, D.D. 1976. A new species of small cat from the Late Quaternary of southeastern United States. Journal of Mammalogy 57, 664-676.

    Morgan, G.S. & Emslie, S.D. 2010. Tropical and western influences in vertebrate faunas from the Pliocene and Pleistocene of Florida. Quaternary International 217, 143-158.

    Ray, C.E. 1964. The jaguarundi in the Quaternary of Florida. Journal of Mammalogy 45, 330-332.

    Timm, R.M. & Genoways, H.H. 2004. The Florida bonneted bat, Eumops floridanus (Chiroptera: Molossidae): distribution, morphometrics, systematics, and ecology. Journal of Mammalogy 85, 852-865.

    Werdelin, L. 1985. Small Pleistocene felines of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 5, 194-210.

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  31. 31. Dartian 5:13 am 02/15/2012

    llewelly:
    The large feral domestic cats of Australia are not puma sized either; the very largest are about 1.6m (including tail

    This could be right (out of interest, what’s your source?)…

    Maine Coons will reach 100 cm (including tail), and the very largest Main Coons are about 120 cm (Wikipedia)

    I have no problem with this either…

    ordinary cats are usually much closer to 50-55 cm (again including tail)

    …but this certainly isn’t right! That must be excluding the tail.

    (Ditto for the puma minimum length you give in comment #26. 1.5 m must mean head + body length only; the tail can’t possibly be included in that measurement.)

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  32. 32. Jerzy New 5:14 am 02/15/2012

    @vdinets
    Did you consider publishing your jaguarundi photo somewhere? I think there is really little documentation of those Florida jaguarundis.

    BTW, how are camera traps widespread in SE USA? After various hunting traps got prohibited, this is one sure method of detecting small carnivores.

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  33. 33. llewelly 10:36 am 02/15/2012

    Dartian, my apologies for being unclear; 1.6m for the length of a large Australian feral is my amateur’s guess, based on articles like this one and similar books. I don’t have an authoritative source.

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  34. 34. naishd 1:49 pm 02/15/2012

    Thanks for the many additional comments – I haven’t been following things much due to an office move and other issues, but a few comments relevant to some things said above. Firstly, despite what some people think or say, ‘mystery big cats’ are not an exclusive, insular phenomenon of merry Olde England or the crazy Antipodes. In fact people report mystery black panthers and such from Germany, France and all over the place. This is well known if you follow the mystery animal literature.

    Secondly, why are so many ‘mystery big cats’ black? This might partly be an artefact – a result of the fact that people often see their cats at night, or at distance. But it does seem to be genuine – people see more black cats than spotted ones, for sure. I think the most likely explanation is that black cats are the ones that have mostly been kept in captivity, and hence are the ones that have mostly escaped/been released into the wild. Remember that people do see tan-coloured and sandy-coloured cats, and blotched and spotty ‘mystery cats’ are not unknown. The large percentage of black cats in the sighting records is, however, very odd.

    Finally, Dartian noted (comment 23) that the Hawkesbury canine bite marks must (in view of 7 cm distance between puncture marks) be from lion or tiger, or hoax. If whoever took the measurement took the maximum possible measurement (that is, from the extreme outside edges of the tooth marks), how can you completely discount jaguar or leopard? I have with me now a jaguar skull where the maximum upper canine bite width (from outside edge of the left upper canine to the outside edge of the right) is 7 cm!

    Darren

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  35. 35. vdinets 2:12 pm 02/15/2012

    Dartian:
    Of course, an introduced population is very much a possibility. I didn’t say it isn’t. I’d love to do a DNA hunt if anyone would give me a grant :-)
    By Neotropics I meant “places within current jaguarundi range”. Sorry for being so imprecise.

    Jerzy: Photos are not much of a proof because they can be easily faked or simply mislabeled. I had enough trouble with my black jaguar photo from Mexico – don’t want to go through it again. How can I prove that those jaguarundi tracks were photographed in the wild, in Florida, weren’t Photoshoped, etc., ad infinitum? I think having them on my website gives them enough publicity.

    Darren: one reason people report black cats more often is that they are unmistakable. People who see other colors usually begin to doubt themselves: could it be a coyote, a bobcat, a deer, a tiger-striped boxer dog? Especially after they get responses from officials, basically informing them that they are ignorant idiots who can’t tell a jaguar from a mutt :-)

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  36. 36. Jerzy New 8:07 pm 02/15/2012

    I live in “all over the place” and heard of just one rufous puma in recent years, which turned to be a cat. I think this is interesting example of British cultural contribution to local tabloid themes. You said yourself they can be analyzed as cultural phenomenon.

    “black cats are the ones that have mostly been kept in captivity”
    One can see how many animals are kept in zoos worldwide at ISIS website. Some zoos don’t report their stock, but it gives good general overview.
    http://www.isis.org/Pages/findanimals.aspx
    Lions, tigers and cheetahs are kept several times more often than pumas, leopards, jaguars and lynxes.

    “Secondly, why are so many ‘mystery big cats’ black?”
    “people do see tan-coloured and sandy-coloured cats”
    I might hint at which colors overlap between big and domestic cats. But I like much more the explanation that men in black cover the existence of big cats of other colors, because they pursue all reports of grey things to catch Grey Aliens.

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  37. 37. Jerzy New 8:13 pm 02/15/2012

    @vdinets
    Sorry of your problems with publishing.

    BTW, there is a very nice case of mystery cats in Germany. In the recent years, it was realised that purebred Wildcats quietly recolonized many large forests in C Germany, and Eurasian Lynxes within few years of reintroduction are reported in many forests too, rather more of them than the few released lynxes could likely breed. Here I talk seriously about records accompanied by camera traps and DNA samples, and in case of lynxes by photos from foresters and the public.

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  38. 38. llewelly 12:15 am 02/16/2012

    Dartitian, the length I gave for ordinary domestic cats is an embarrassing misreading of wikipedia, which actually gives 46 cm /not/ including tail. (And yeah, I’ve lived with ordinary cats, and with Maine Coons, but I’m embarrassingly bad with lengths.)

    So my paragraph about the video should be discarded. However, if the ordinary cat in the video was 46 cm nose to tail base, plus 30 cm of tail, it would be 76 cm total, and twice that, 152 cm, is still not as big as a typical cougar, though it is larger than a Maine Coon. (But it’s a video, which it seems not many people have seen, so maybe the cat is not as large as it seems.)

    As for the puma length, I can’t recall why I was thinking 1.5m was the minimum size of an adult puma, but I probably got it from the NY state dept conservation., via wikipedia. However – the conservation (or “wildlife resources”) departments of other regions that I checked (Utah, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, some Canadian provinces) give either 6 feet (about 1.8m) or 1.7m as the minimum length. So I will agree that 1.5m is too small for a minimum cougar length. However I don’t think this issue much affects my argument that Australian ferals are not as large as cougars.

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  39. 39. llewelly 12:44 am 02/16/2012

    “The large percentage of black cats in the sighting records is, however, very odd.”

    Black cats are “unlucky”, and therefor more memorable. It strikes me as a natural, and very tempting way to make a story more dramatic. Gives the dangerous animal a villainous color. I suspect that among stories of big cat sightings, the portion that are of black cats probably increases as the story passes through more people.

    I can’t help but note that every US state or Canadian province site I checked (while looking for information on lengths of cougars) contained a statement along the lines of :”Despite many reports, there is no evidence that black cougars exist in “.

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  40. 40. Dartian 3:52 am 02/16/2012

    Darren:
    I think the most likely explanation is that black cats are the ones that have mostly been kept in captivity

    Why would you think that’s the case? It’s my understanding (though admittedly I have no firsthand information) that black leopards and jaguars are typically much more expensive to buy than spotted ones. To me at least, this suggests that the former are less – not more – common in captivity.

    As for melanistic individuals of other big cats; IIRC, you yourself have said in an old Tet Zoo ver 2 post (the one that was about ‘spotted pumas’) that there is no authentic record of a truly melanistic puma from anywhere in the world. In light of this fact, are we really supposed to seriously consider the possibility that undocumented black pumas are so dirt common in private collections that they keep escaping from them all the time? (Actually, I’m sure that genuine black pumas, lions, tigers, or cheetahs would fetch astronomical prices from private animal collectors. Such rare, expensive specimens would surely be more than usually well looked after and thus be particularly unlikely to ever escape or be deliberately let loose, no?)

    However, echoing what Jerzy said, there has got to be some actual data on the numbers of unusual big cat colour morphs kept in captivity, at least in industrialised countries. Any ABC hunters up for doing some investigative journalism on this subject?

    how can you completely discount jaguar or leopard?

    AFAIK, leopards never get that big. A jaguar is admittedly theoretically possible, but it would have to be a huge jaguar. And a huge jaguar would surely have huge feet too – which means that there’s still a size mismatch between that footprint and the canine teeth distance.

    llewelly:
    Black cats are “unlucky”, and therefor more memorable. It strikes me as a natural, and very tempting way to make a story more dramatic.

    Cf. the Hound of the Baskervilles; it’s not just big cats that get ‘blacked up’ in mythology and urban legends.

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  41. 41. naishd 4:32 am 02/16/2012

    Nice comments – thanks, everyone :) To Jerzy – of course we need to be sceptical about ‘mystery big cat’ sightings, and of course many of the sightings can be dismissed as misidentifications (of domestic cats, dogs etc.), hoaxes, and of course the apparent preponderance of black animals is very odd… but I think your approach is too dismissive. There are now numerous photos and bits of film showing large black cats – that is, cats that are not domestic moggies – in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. I didn’t make up the idea that ‘mystery big cats’ have been seen in places other than the UK, the eastern US and Australia. Maybe I should write about this data.

    Dartian: there is indeed data on how many cats of different sorts have been kept in captivity in the UK, I will ask around. Black pumas are essentially unknown (bar those one or two old cases), so I don’t take too seriously the idea that witnesses are seeing members of a novel, melanistic British/European puma population. However, the idea that people are seeing black leopards and/or jaguars is not unreasonable. One of my assumptions about the British big cat phenomenon is that a low number of individuals can account for many sightings.

    One last thing. As stated in the article above, pumas and lions have been shot dead – that is, we have their dead bodies (or, at least, photos of their dead bodies) – in Australia. The specific individuals (e.g., Woodend puma, Broken Hill lion) were not reported escapees, and in fact no-one knows where they came from. In the UK, jungle cats and leopard cats have been found dead or killed on several occasions, a live puma was captured in Scotland, and both Eurasian and Canadian lynxes have been captured live or shot dead at various times. Again, these animals were not discovered because someone reported them missing from a collection – it seems that they were living wild, and were encountered, and then shot or captured, by chance. All of these animals would be reported as ‘big cats’ by the average observer.

    Darren

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  42. 42. Jerzy New 5:31 am 02/16/2012

    @naishd
    I have no doubt that occassional big cats escape. In the same way, there are escaped kangaroos, zebras, camels, monkeys and all other exotic animals. But I think they are very quickly killed or run over by cars, and there is nothing like long-staying cats or breeding feral cats.

    I may point in how difficult is to purposefully teach a captive wild cat to survive for reintroduction, that such animals routinely approach people and houses, and that wild lynxes in Western Europe have great difficulty in surviving in areas with dense population and road network.

    In the last decades Europe and Australia also passed restricitve laws about registering and keeping dangerous wild animals. This means that somebody can theoretically find the nearly complete number of wild cats in captivity, and possibility of unregistered cats in private hands and unreported, not captured escapes is really slight.

    BTW, I saw some unpublished photos from camera traps in Germany. Pair of snow leopards escaped from Soviet circus in DDR, breeding swarm of tatzelwurms, last real population of trolls outside Scandinavia. All classified secret by Ministry of Environment. ;)

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  43. 43. Dartian 5:59 am 02/16/2012

    Darren:
    Broken Hill lion

    I asked about that earlier; what happened to it? Please don’t tell me it’s another of the usual ‘the carcass started to smell so we threw it away’-stories. And if the incident took place as recently as in 1985, surely there must be photographic evidence too?

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  44. 44. Dartian 7:00 am 02/16/2012

    Darren:
    Dartian noted (comment 23) that the Hawkesbury canine bite marks must (in view of 7 cm distance between puncture marks) be from lion or tiger, or hoax.

    A clarification on the “hoax” bit: All we have to go by in this case is the news report in the Hawkesbury Gazette, which is very vague on important details (regarding, for example, an exact description of the alpaca’s injuries). The fact that the news story uses rather contradictory expressions doesn’t help (was the alpaca “mauled” to death, or was it “neatly”/”cleanly” killed?). I don’t really see anything here that excludes the possibility that the poor alpaca was, in fact, killed by human vandals – a possibility that I find far more likely than that the culprit was an out-of-place pantherine (I know for a fact that sick fuckers who kill animals for fun really exist, whereas I’m far less certain about the existence of large feral cats in Australia).

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  45. 45. Heteromeles 9:37 am 02/16/2012

    Um, can I point out a couple of things?

    1. I suspect that one reason black cats are reported is that they are visible a longer distance away. The bobcats and feral cats I’ve met aren’t too thrilled to be seen at close quarters, and they’re not so easy to see at a longer distance. Black shows up, and it’s probably also easier to get the auto-focus to engage on a black object.

    2. If you’re a hoaxer, black cats are probably easy to create, although pink is easier. Here’s the story: a friend got a new roommate’s cat a week before said roommate showed up. She and her boyfriend were a little annoyed about having to care for the cat for a week (no bowl, no litterbox, just a hungry white persian cat dropped off at night), so they decided to get even. This white persian was very friendly, so when they mixed up a paste of red koolaid and water (1:1) and brushed it into her pelt, she just purred at all the extra grooming. When the owner showed up, she had a pink persian with a white face, and the color didn’t come out until the cat shed all the dyed hairs.

    If I wanted to mess with people, I’d probably have a lot of fun brushing black into a cat’s fur. Or just get a black cat and force the perspective on the videos a bit.

    Or I’d get a black jaguarundi on the exotic pets market.

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  46. 46. DaleD 11:09 am 02/16/2012

    Hello Darren!
    Not only am I one of the ones that says “All Three”, I have previously published a CFZ blog saying so. Unfortunately the CFZ’s search engine will not look up the date of the original posting for me right now. However I was really writing because of the identification of “Jaws”: at one point a few years back, I wrote to Karl Shuker and said “Those teeth look like a standard feline to me” which I suppose is about as close to saying “it’s a large house cat” as I would have tactfully put it at the time. I was not aware until I saw today’s posting here that you had solved the problem yourself.
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

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  47. 47. BrianL 11:52 am 02/16/2012

    I’d like to add that over here in the Netherlands, some years ago there was the rumour of a feral puma on the Veluwe. After some media attention, it just slipped off the radar never to be reported again. In this case, I’m almost certain we were dealing with a hoax or at best misidentification of a large domestic cat or even of a dog. Not that a puma would have difficulty feeding in that area: there are plenty of deer, including melanistic roes.
    Returning to the topic of melanism thusly, are there even any official black tigers, lions or cheetahs on record or is the ‘condition’ presumed to be non-existant in those species? Also, how widespread is melanism in small cats? Of the top of my head I know it to occur in wildcats, jaguarandis, servals and bobcats but I doubt that’s the complete list.

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  48. 48. David Marjanović 11:57 am 02/16/2012

    I suspect that one reason black cats are reported is that they are visible a longer distance away.

    That’s the first thing that came to my mind. Those with other colours tend to be camouflaged in most environments.

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  49. 49. Dartian 3:34 am 02/17/2012

    Brian:
    Also, how widespread is melanism in small cats?

    Quite widespread. Apart from those species you already mentioned, melanistic individuals are known to occur in ‘pampas cat’*, oncilla, Geoffroy’s cat, and Asiatic golden cat (Eizirik et al., 2003; see also Ghimerey & Pal, 2009). There are also mentions in the literature (e.g., Robinson, 1976) of melanism occurring in jungle cat, caracal, and bengal cat, but I don’t know how well substantiated these latter ones are. Then there are all the rumours of black tigers in the old Indian big-game hunting lore, but no convincing evidence for the existence of melanistic tigers exists, AFAIK.

    * Note that the taxonomy and nomenclature (both at the genus and the species level) of the so-called pampas cats is quite bewildering. Even in the technical literature, pampas cats are often confused with the colocolo, which is a separate species. Also, some of the subspecies of the pampas cat sensu traditionalis have been recently elevated to full species status (following Garcia-Perea, 1994). In the context of the current discussion, it should be noted that melanistic individuals are definitely known to occur in the Brazilian taxon (Silveira et al., 2005), which should probably be referred to as Pantanal cat Leopardus braccatus (although Silveira et al. (2005) call it Oncifelis colocolo).

    References:
    Eizirik, E., Yuhki, N., Johnson, W.E., Menotti-Raymond, M., Hannah, S.S. & O’Brien, S.J. 2003. Molecular genetics and evolution of melanism in the cat family. Current Biology 13, 448-453.

    Garcia-Perea, R. 1994. The pampas cat group (genus Lynchailurus Severtzov, 1858) (Carnivora: Felidae), a systematic and biogeographic review. American Museum Novitates 3096, 1-36.

    Ghimerey, Y. & Pal, P. 2009. First camera trap image of Asiatic golden cat in Nepal. CATnews51, 19.

    Robinson, R. 1976. Homologous genetic variation in the Felidae. Genetica 46, 1-31.

    Silveira, L., Jácomo, A.T.A. & Furtado, M.M. 2005. Pampas cat ecology and conservation in the Brazilian grasslands. Cat Project of the Month, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/project-o-month/02_webarchive/grafics/sept2005.pdf

    Link to this
  50. 50. naishd 12:28 pm 02/18/2012

    Thanks for additional comments. Dartian: I totally agree that account of Hawkesbury alpaca attack might be contradictory; frankly I didn’t pay much attention to it as I didn’t expect to get any useful information from a tabloid newspaper account. I should say that the reason I mentioned that account in the first place is because I was googling for images of an Australian ‘mystery big cat’ footprint.

    Melanism in cats: it’s also definitely known for European wildcats (though with hybridisation from domestic cats probably being a contributory factor), Kodkod, African golden cat, Serval and fairly reliably reported for Indochinese clouded leopard. There are unconfirmed observations of black lions (lions with large black patches have been kept in captivity) and of course of black tigers. Most mainstream sources think that coalesced striping in exceptional tigers might explain accounts of all-black specimens, though some of the 19th century eyewitness accounts (some were alleged close-up examinations of dead specimens) sound compelling. Some authors say that ‘melanistic’ Caracal were dark brown, not truly black.

    Darren

    Link to this
  51. 51. David Marjanović 3:16 pm 02/18/2012

    Could it be that the black tigers have been hunted to extinction?

    Link to this
  52. 52. Hydrarchos 4:24 pm 02/18/2012

    I registered here just to comment on this…

    A couple of possibilities that I haven’t seen mentioned:

    1) IIRC, the Malaysian population (subspecies?) of leopard is almost exclusively black, to the extent that some local people have never heard of spotted leopards. I think they are also one of the smaller and more gracile leopard types. Malaysia isn’t terribly far from Australia…

    2) I’ve heard it suggested that [i]Felis[/i] sp. could have been brought to Australia well before European colonisation, and that the ancestral stock of such a population could have included not merely domestic [i]F. catus[/i], but also the Swamp/Jungle cat [i]F. chaus[/i], which is bigger than a domestic cat (about bobcat size IIRC), but (like the Asian leopard cat) has been bred with domestic cats to produce fertile hybrids for the pet trade. Perhaps such a hybrid founder stock could have contributed to an introduced Australian [i]Felis[/i] population having the potential to reach larger sizes than populations of feral cats elsewhere?

    The Australian super-sized, black [i]F. catus[/i] remind me of the Scottish Kellas cats, which are introgressive hybrids of Scottish wildcats (which are larger on average than domestic cats, but with some overlap, perhaps typically about Maine Coon size… in fact, Maine Coons look a lot like Scottish wildcats to me, which is interesting, but a tangent from this thread), and are bigger at least in linear dimensions, although possibly more gracile, than pure Scottish wildcats. Perhaps something similar could have happened in Australia with a domestic x Swamp cat (or other small-to-medium feline) introgressive hybrid population?

    In general when it comes to cryptozoology, a lot of people seem to assume that there was no human-assisted movement of animals across oceans before the age of European imperialism. I strongly suspect that there was a lot of trans-oceanic trade between other parts of the world (Australia, China, Africa, the Americas…) that Europeans never knew about, and that the possibility exists for all kinds of animals (and plants) to have been introduced to places many centuries ago. Asian, or even African or South American, felids could very easily have been brought to Australia long before European domestic cats arrived.

    (Speaking of [i]Felis[/i] sp., the “Territory Tiger” photo looks far more like [i]Felis[/i] than [i]Puma[/i] to me – look at the short, thick head and neck. There’s also no real indication of scale…)

    Link to this
  53. 53. Jerzy New 4:27 pm 02/18/2012

    Melanistic Jungle Cat I saw some years ago in Heidelberg zoo. Some photos (not mine) there:
    http://extratour.blog.de/2010/08/12/tiergarten-heidelberg-iii-9172030/

    Link to this
  54. 54. Hydrarchos 4:35 pm 02/18/2012

    Also re Thylacoleo, I strongly suspect that, if alive, it wouldn’t look anything like as much like a cat as a lot of people seem to think. What I imagine from the skeleton is something more like a small bear with a head looking like a cross between that of a panther and a giant rat. I think people extrapolate too much from the (remarkable) superficial convergence between Thylacinus and dogs to think that other marsupial “equivalents” of placental carnivores were as close to their “equivalents” in appearance.

    The Rilla Martin photo perplexes me, particularly the way that the “animal”‘s head appears to be cut off by a perfectly straight, near-horizontal line. I can’t help thinking it’s a pre-digital fake created by somehow “painting” (with light or chemicals) on a photo negative.

    Gary Opit’s drawing looks plausibly like an unknown dasyurid or thylacinid.

    Is the 1981 Martin Williams photo shown in the book?

    Link to this
  55. 55. Heteromeles 10:43 pm 02/18/2012

    @Hydrarchos: So I take it you want to join the movement to give the genus Thylacaleo the new common name drop bears?

    Link to this
  56. 56. llewelly 10:52 pm 02/18/2012

    <David Marjanović </
    “Could it be that the black tigers have been hunted to extinction?”

    Well, you’re the expert, and I am not, but:

    (a) Melanism is known to occur in many other cats (but in only two large cats).
    (b) So it may have been present in tigers.
    (c) When a population is greatly reduced in number, it typically looses much genetic diversity.
    (d) Every tiger population has been substantially reduced. Many have been wholly eliminated.
    (e) Therefor, some tiger genes have been lost forever.
    (f) Those genes may include genes for melanism.

    So it is plausible. But since melanism is not known to occur in most large cats, I suggest the likelyhood (b) is low. (c) through (f) do not much affect the overall likelyhood, I guess.

    Link to this
  57. 57. llewelly 10:53 pm 02/18/2012

    (Experimenting:)

    <David Marjanovic </
    “Could it be that the black tigers have been hunted to extinction?”

    Well, you’re the expert, and I am not, but:

    (a) Melanism is known to occur in many other cats (but in only two large cats).
    (b) So it may have been present in tigers.
    (c) When a population is greatly reduced in number, it typically looses much genetic diversity.
    (d) Every tiger population has been substantially reduced. Many have been wholly eliminated.
    (e) Therefor, some tiger genes have been lost forever.
    (f) Those genes may include genes for melanism.

    So it is plausible. But since melanism is not known to occur in most large cats, I suggest the likelyhood (b) is low. (c) through (f) do not much affect the overall likelyhood, I guess.

    Link to this
  58. 58. llewelly 10:54 pm 02/18/2012

    (Still experimenting:)

    David Marjanović:
    “Could it be that the black tigers have been hunted to extinction?”

    Well, you’re the expert, and I am not, but:

    (a) Melanism is known to occur in many other cats (but in only two large cats).
    (b) So it may have been present in tigers.
    (c) When a population is greatly reduced in number, it typically looses much genetic diversity.
    (d) Every tiger population has been substantially reduced. Many have been wholly eliminated.
    (e) Therefor, some tiger genes have been lost forever.
    (f) Those genes may include genes for melanism.

    So it is plausible. But since melanism is not known to occur in most large cats, I suggest the likelyhood (b) is low. (c) through (f) do not much affect the overall likelyhood, I guess.

    Link to this
  59. 59. Jerzy New 4:27 am 02/20/2012

    One observation: ISIS website which I posted before shows that most individuals of wild felids kept in captivity have characteristic markings. Male lion has a mane, tiger has stripes, lynx has ear tufts and short tail, leopard, jaguar, cheetah and serval have spots.

    However, observers and photos practically always show featureless “big cat”.

    Link to this
  60. 60. naishd 4:44 am 02/20/2012

    I do think that criticisms like this (comment 59) are irrelevant – rather than pointing to theoretical problems we should be trying to explain the body of eyewitness/photographic evidence that exists. In any case, that objection is also somewhat naive – some witnesses of ‘mystery cats’ in the UK specifically refer to lynx-like characters (ear tufts, facial ruffs, etc.) or to blotches, stripes or other markings. I and some other researchers think that this is because some of the sightings are of jungle cats and leopards cats (both of which have been discovered dead, or shot, in the UK).

    Darren

    Link to this
  61. 61. Dartian 5:47 am 02/20/2012

    Hydrarchos:
    I’ve heard it suggested that [i]Felis[/i] sp. could have been brought to Australia well before European colonisation

    It has been suggested, yes, but AFAIK there’s no actual evidence for it. And, even if domestic cats had been introduced to Australia centuries earlier than commonly accepted, that’s still just a mere evolutionary heartbeat; hardly enough time for us to expect as drastic body size increases that we’re speaking of here to have taken place. Body size could, of course, increase that rapidly if there’s very strong selection for it – but what would that strong selection factor be in this particular case? Presumably not diet, considering that modern-day Australian feral cats mainly hunt small-bodied prey such as rodents and lizards.

    the ancestral stock of such a population could have included not merely domestic [i]F. catus[/i], but also the Swamp/Jungle cat [i]F. chaus[/i], which is bigger than a domestic cat

    If Australia’s feral cats were of interspecific hybrid origin, I’m pretty sure we would have found that out by now; such hybrid ancestry leaves its trace in the genotype.

    Also, an interspecific hybrid origin would still not explain the (alleged) blackness of these (alleged) mega-cats. Melanism is widespread (though usually not common) in several wild felid species, but it is also typically strongly associated with humid, forested habitats (either lowland or montane rainforests). We should not expect a uniformly black pelage to be favoured in relatively dry, open habitats (where it might even be a positively maladaptive trait, especially for an ambush predator). Australia, the driest of continents, seems like a particularly unlikely place for melanism to be selected for in feral cats.

    re Thylacoleo, I strongly suspect that, if alive, it wouldn’t look anything like as much like a cat as a lot of people seem to think

    Agreed.

    Link to this
  62. 62. Jerzy New 7:23 am 02/20/2012

    @naishd
    Statistics. By laws of probability most of escaped cats should have clear, species-specific markings. Only pumas, melanistic leopards and jaguars and female lions are uniform.

    Jungle cat and leopard cat theory is interesting. Jungle cat is indeed somewhat larger than domestic cats and has short ear tufts, but is uniform. Leopard cat is spotted, but actually smaller than typical domestic cat. However, the theory of large and spotted cat gets some credibility if you cross the two…

    Link to this
  63. 63. Jerzy New 7:40 am 02/20/2012

    BTW, for all the internet track specialists, here is a guide how to recognize dog from puma footprints:
    http://www.bear-tracker.com/caninevsfeline.html

    I was quite curious what left the track on Victoria article (one with the coin). I looked for something simple, not inventing elaborate creations. It seems too big for maruspials. My tip is that it is human hand half-closed into a fist, the thumb mimicking the footpad, and last-but one joints of the other fingers making long “phalanges” which are too long for a cat footprint.

    best,

    Link to this
  64. 64. David Marjanović 10:28 am 02/20/2012

    Hydrarchos, this is a blog, not a forum; you have to write actual HTML, not BBCode.

    llewelly, what are you trying to do HTML-wise?

    Malaysia isn’t terribly far from Australia…

    It is.

    Link to this
  65. 65. llewelly 11:24 am 02/20/2012

    David Marjanović:
    “llewelly, what are you trying to do HTML-wise?”

    I was trying to link your name to the comment you wrote. The first attempt was the “obvious thing” – [a href="blahblahblah"]David Marjanović:[/a] (but using angle brackets rather than square brackets). This didn’t work. If you view the source of the page and search for “wholly eliminated”, and scroll up a bit, you can see I got the url correct, but for some reason, the software here transoformed t leading begin angle bracket into an ampersand lt, on both the opening tag and the closing tag. It seems to me sometimes it accepts my links without transformation, but not other times, and I haven’t the time to reverse engineer its rules.

    (Pedantry note: this blog doesn’t accept html per se (no blog does), it accepts a subset of html, and it doesn’t have preview, making it difficult to explore what it does accept. )

    Link to this
  66. 66. llewelly 11:34 am 02/20/2012

    David Marjanović:
    “Hydrarchos, this is a blog, not a forum; you have to write actual HTML, not BBCode.”

    But it’s obvious (to people who know a little BBCode) what Hydrarchos intended to do with his BBCode, so the meaning of his post is clear, even if the appearance is not ideal. That can’t be said for the horrible manglings which sometimes result from straying just beyond the totally undocumented and poorly thought out boundaries of the very limited html this blog will support. If you don’t have a lot of time and energy to fill up a blog with experiments (which the average reader will often find quite confusing), it may well be wiser to use BBCode, which the blog software will at least leave alone.

    And without preview, how could you possibly know the blog software doesn’t understand BBCode without either (a) trying it, or (b) watching someone else try it?

    Link to this
  67. 67. llewelly 12:20 pm 02/20/2012

    “If Australia’s feral cats were of interspecific hybrid origin, I’m pretty sure we would have found that out by now; such hybrid ancestry leaves its trace in the genotype.”

    I’m very interested to hear DNA samples have been taken from feral cat populations in Australia, and studied for their ancestry. You don’t have any links, do you?

    Link to this
  68. 68. Heteromeles 8:25 pm 02/20/2012

    A few days ago, I had yet another encounter with the veracity of eyewitnesses. I happen to live in an area with many bobcats, and I was recently told by a dogwalker that there were pumas in the area. He’d just seen a cub a few weeks ago even.

    I didn’t have the heart to ask him whether he’d seen the tail, and whether it was long or short. While I keep an eye on the trails, just in case, I’ve never seen a mountain lion track there.

    I’ve similarly seen people mistake cougar cubs for a lynx (in Los Angeles, as the result of a web-based ID). That mother (with a young child) was extremely upset when I told her that the “lynx” she and her son had seen in their yard was a mountain lion cub. Not that anyone’s ever been attacked in that area, but her back yard must have felt a lot less safe.

    Link to this
  69. 69. Dartian 6:05 am 02/21/2012

    David:
    you have to write actual HTML, not BBCode

    But, as comment #54 shows, he/she figured that out already.

    llewelly:
    This didn’t work.

    “You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.”
    -Homer Simpson

    You don’t have any links, do you?

    Not too many, unfortunately. I know that there are some data on Australian feral cat genomics, but it seems to predominantly have been published in papers that I personally don’t have access to (e.g., Denny et al., 2002).

    Some information can, however, be found in Jones & Horton (1984). Incidentally, this study also provides some (admittedly limited) data on the frequency of occurrence of black coat colour in Australian feral cats in various localities.

    Then there is Glen et al. (2010), who didn’t examine feral cat ancestry/interrelationships but whose paper is of some interest in the context of the current cryptid discussion. Glen et al. examined a dead quoll with canine teeth puncture wounds on its throat and neck, and they were able to extract DNA from these wounds. The analysis confirmed that the quoll had been bitten to death by a cat. (Too bad that this kind of analysis apparently wasn’t performed on the Hawkesbury alpaca…)

    Finally, here is a non-technical link which nevertheless is also of some direct relevance to this discussion thread. It’s about how Australian customs officials – with the aid of geneticists – are trying to intercept Savannah cats which people might try to bring into Australia illegally; the concern is that these domestic cat X serval hybrids could escape from pet owners and become a new pest species.

    References:
    Denny, E., Yakovlevich, P., Eldridge, M.D.B. & Dickman, C. 2002. Social and genetic analysis of a population of free-living cats (Felis catus L.) exploiting a resource-rich habitat. Wildlife Research 29, 405-413.

    Glen, A.S., Berry, O., Sutherland, D.R., Garretson, S., Robinson, T. & de Tores, P.J. 2010. Forensic DNA confirms intraguild killing of a chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii) by a feral cat (Felis catus). Conservation Genetics 11, 1099-1101.

    Jones, E. & Horton, B.J. 1984. Gene frequencies and body weights of feral cats, Felis catus (L.), from five Australian localities and from Macquarie Island. Australian Journal of Zoology 32, 231-237.

    Link to this
  70. 70. llewelly 7:45 am 02/21/2012

    Thank you, Dartian, though it looks like I don’t have access to any of those papers either.

    Link to this
  71. 71. David Marjanović 11:42 am 02/22/2012

    But it’s obvious (to people who know a little BBCode) what Hydrarchos intended to do with his BBCode, so the meaning of his post is clear, even if the appearance is not ideal.

    Sure. I’m not saying some horrible sin was committed, just stating a fact. I’ve seen people try BBCode again and again and again on blogs, even though I’m not aware of any blog that uses BBCode instead of HTML.

    Anyway, test: llewelly

    Perhaps special characters screw it up somehow: ć

    But, as comment #54 shows, he/she figured that out already.

    …Oops. True. Don’t know how I managed to overlook that.

    Link to this
  72. 72. molloch 6:45 pm 02/27/2012

    I don’t think the oversized feral argument holds much weight. Domestic cats have been subject to selective breeding by humans for thousands of years, if we were going to see the diversity in size – we would have seen it through domestic, selective breeding first. There is no better selection agent at work in the Australian bush than in Maine Coone breeding farms and certainly no way to isolate a breeding population of such with the range of these sightings. We only have 200 years of natural selection to play with, also.

    I think there are 2 reasons for the black colouring bias in sightings. A giant, “black” cat adds some embellishment to the story, but also I believe many sightings are actually Black (Swamp) Wallabies, Walliabia bicolor. I have seen hundreds of these wallabies in the bush, and they quite often rest “curled up” before being startled and springing away. Just 2 weeks ago the family and I saw one curled up in a clearing near some granite boulders, it had the tail curled around it like a domestic moggie curled up on a rug. The second it became aware of us it leapt up in one movement and sprang into some nearby cover. There was no normal kangaroo movement, it looked for all the world like a large quadruped. If I wasn’t familiar with the animal, I would not have been sure what I had seen.

    Link to this
  73. 73. llewelly 10:24 pm 02/27/2012

    test

    Link to this
  74. 74. llewelly 10:26 pm 02/27/2012

    ć

    (test 2)

    Link to this
  75. 75. BrianL 10:09 am 02/29/2012

    Undoubtedly of interest regarding feral cats growing large is a recent finding with feral cats on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog. Apparently, there’s a population of about 50 ferals living there in (near-)isolation for a few decades by now.
    It seems that, on average, these cats are rather big: They average about 7 kilograms with the largest getting up to 10 kilograms. Quite possibly there is some founder effect at work here. Anyhow, these cats have not become large on a diet of particularly large prey. According to researchers who’ve studied their scat they largely subsist on voles, birds, rabbits and hares (admittedly, the latter probably are on the big side as prey for cats and, interestingly, voles only seem to have colonised in 1995 meaning that the cats’ presence greatly predates the voles’ availabilitya as small prey).

    Of course, these moggies are not exactly puma-sized but they are certainly largish and are island isolates. The island does not have any larger or comparably-sized predators. Apparently though, there are non-ferals kept by the locals. Interestingly enough those do not seem to mix much with the ferals. Ecological isolation at work?

    There’s a link here, but unfortunately you have to be a reader of the newspaper to have access:
    http://alpha.nrchandelsblad.nl/van/2012/02/25/11359-katers-die-nooit-brokjes-eten.php

    Link to this

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