Thursday, 10 April 2014

Still More Big Cats in Southeast Queensland

     In my January post, I quoted a letter from Bruce Thomson, a senior conservation officer with the  Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. I contacted him, and he sent me a follow-up letter dated 28 April 1997. Here, then is the text of letter, except for the names of the witnesses, which I have deleted to protect their privacy.
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     My interest in these animals is relatively new and really started with the report of an animal on the Toowoomba Range just near Toowoomba. I think this sighting is particularly significant since it seems to have been later (that day) corroborated by the discovery of footprints at the site where the sighting was made. I have enclosed details of this sighting for your records.
      He included a number of photos of footprints dated 28 Jan 1997 but, although they were evocative, I cannot say they were conclusive enough to be identified as feline. One thing was apparent, however: there was no sign of claws, despite the mud being fairly soft. He also included the following memorandum from a Wildlife Ranger.

Reported by P. P. on 28-1-97

Mr. P. stated that a 5.15 am [ie around sunrise] on Sunday 26-1-97 he was traveling down the Toowoomba range heading for Brisbane. At a spot opposite the "Skirmish" operation he noticed an animal obviously feeding on a road killed carcass beside the highway. When he was within 30 (?) metres of the animal it stood up. At this point Mr. P. noted that it was approximately the same height as the grill on the Toyota Camry he was driving (about 60 cm), and approximately 1.2 metres long. It had a thick tail of equal length to its body which hung down onto the ground and trailed behind the animal before curling up at the tip.
Mr. P. stated that the animal was a "stunning jet black creature" and that he was tempted to get out of the car for a better look. He freely admitted that fear and respect for the sheer size of the animal caused him to reconsider this option in favour of staying in the vehicle. As he drove closer to the animal it slowly moved off into the surrounding scrub ("it slunk off in exactly the same way as a cat - it was definitely a cat - there's no way that it was a dog of any sort").
     Mr. P. stated that he had seen Black Panthers at various zoos and that the animal he saw appeared to him to be almost identical.
Ranger R. H. and I visited the scene of the encounter on 28-1-97 and obtained several photographs of large feline-like footprints which we located in the mud adjacent to the highway.
     If the estimate of height was accurate, the animal would have been almost twice the size of the largest (known) feral cat, and within the range of a black leopard. However, neither species has a tail as long as its body; 50% to 60% of the head-body length being more reasonable. But to return to Mr Thomson's letter -

     Other sightings that I have checked out include the following. They are accompanied by various degrees of confirmation which range from single sighting by single individual to single animals seen by numerous witnesses over several days/weeks!
  1. Mr G. S. at Haden [27° 13' S, 151° 55' E]. Saw a large black cat on his property about 13 months ago. 2ft tall at shoulder, 6ft long. Was riding over a hill crest to find the cat coming up the hill from other side. It ran down the valley and reappeared on the other side, looked at them and then went through a fence and disappeared. During the several weeks that it 'was around' Mr S. saw it, his son and the mailman plus various others (?2) also saw it. He said it was a shame that he didn't know that I was interested because had I gone out at that time for a day or so, I would have easily found it and had a good look!!!!!!
  2. Bunya Mountains [26° 50' S, 151° 33' E] records are numerous and go back many years. They range from a single animal seen on the roadside by one car to a particularly interesting case where two cars independently reported the same animal (black cat, size of a large dog) only minutes apart and at the same spot on the road. There were a minimum of three people in each car and all saw the animal! Both cars independently reported their sightings to the police at Kingaroy as far as I know. This occurred about 12 months ago.
  3. 3 years ago, 10 km south of Texas (so presumably in NSW) [Texas in just over the Queensland border at 28° 51' S, 151° 11' E] at a property. 6 month old lambs were disappearing from a paddock near the State Forest (being taken away bodily with no trace being left). The property owner's son was riding his horse near a rocky outcrop when the horse started to shy and become uneasy. Upon looking up and across he saw a large "panther" lying prostrate on a low tree branch within 40m. He immediately galloped home and came back on the site with a gun but no animal was found. The tree had deep claw marks in the trunk and on the branch and had apparently been frequently used. Mr. M. O. (my informant) was a friend of the family and went down to visit the property in order to shoot the "panther". They successfully spotlit it and several people in the spotlighting vehicle confirmed the description of the animal. A shot was fired but it apparently missed and the animal has not been seen on the property since.
     There are other reports from further west, in the State Forests near Chinchilla but I haven't been able to find any reliable stories to tie to these stories yet.

PS.  I have finally got around to posting the results of my M.Sc. thesis in layman's terms. This was on the behaviour of the koala, so if anybody is interested in reading about Australia's favourite marsupial, click here. You will not be disappointed.


  1. "Jet black creature and a thick tail which hunged down [...] and trailed behind[...] before curling up a the tip..." Not a feline per se.

  2. 'He included a number of photos of footprints dated 28 Jan 1997 but, although they were evocative, I cannot say they were conclusive enough to be identified as feline.'

    Hi Malcolm, do you have a link to the photos from the 1997 sighting in Toowoomba?

    I have worked closely with both Sumatran & Bengal tigers in the past, and would love to see how the footprints match up!!

    1. I have added the photos to the post. I hope they will be of assistance to you.