An organised search has begun to prove the existence of a large cat, or cats, living in the Northern Illawarra.
The latest recorded sighting was on Sublime Point on Good Friday. Three days later, large footprints were spotted just meters from houses on Buttenshaw Drive at Austinmer. The attached photo has been sent zoological experts who have confirmed they belong to a large cat.
Repeated sightings of the animal along the escarpment over many years have prompted the Australian Big Cat Research Group to focus on the area, and they’re calling on anyone who has seen the animal to come forward.
Organiser Vaughan King is an expert in big cats, and spent five years working with them at Australia Zoo. He says while there have been numerous sightings officially recorded, lots of people have seen something and only told family and friends. “Now they can add any information to our website so we can compile all the reports.”
Vaughan says he’s not interested in hunting the animal, he just wants confirmation it exists so people know it’s there.
“In Canada, when someone sees a Mountain Lion, signs go up everywhere warning people to be alert. That’s what I think should happen here in Australia. If there is a big cat around, people need to know. Especially when it’s coming close to homes, as it has along Buttenshaw Drive.”
Many people put the big cats up there with UFO’s, and Vaughan admits it’s a touchy subject, but says there are five plausible theories as to how big cats can exist in the Australian bush.
1- It’s Native Fauna.
Some people believe it’s a marsupial lion that’s thought to have been extinct. Vaughan Believes this is unlikely, but says stranger things have happened.
2. It’s a /Thylacine
There have been sightings in the south west of Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia that are believed to be Tasmanian Tigers.
3. It’s a Feral Cat
It’s believed 30% of sightings are actually feral cats. However a large variety of cat would grow to between 16 and 20kgs. A small ‘big cat’ would be closer to 60-70kgs
4. Circus or Mascot Releases/Escapes
Vaughan says he’s had conversations with Circus Owners who admit to animals escaping. One in particular says they lost many of their exotic animals during a large storm, including their big cats. There are also reports of road accidents that have allowed the animals to escape.
Circuses have also been known to release animals they could no longer care for.
There is also ample anecdotal evidence of US military mascots being released into the Australian wild post WW11.
Vaughan says like football teams, US battalions had mascots to reflect their courage and bravery. During the war, more than a million US Servicemen passed through Australian ports, having already stopped in Asia.
He says many of these soldiers picked up animals from markets, including big cats and cubs. When they returned home or the war was over, rather than euthanise the animal, they’d release them into the wild.
5. The Gold Rush
Miners coming from Asia and the US often brought cougars with them for protection of their claim. These animals were subsequently sold or released.
So how does this fit with the Northern Illawarra?
“Perhaps there was an accident on Bulli Pass involving a circus convoy,” says Vaughan. “There was also a private zoo at a property at Wallacia. I have heard reports of those animals being released into the wild.”
All big cats like to hide in hilly, dense bushland. They are nocturnal but are especially active at dusk and dawn, which is when you’re most likely to spot one.
“I think the majority of sightings in Australia are one of three species,” says Vaughan. “Based on history and evidence, the animals appear to be leopards, jaguars and cougars, mountain lion or pumas, which are the same thing. The ‘black panther’ is a mutation of the leopard or jaguar. This is consistent of reports we’ve received of animal carcasses being found high up in trees.
Asiatic subspecies were used extensively in circuses and zoos because of their mysterious beauty and their ability to be trained. “These are adaptable and elusive animals,” says Vaughan. “The leopard is found in 75 countries on multiple continents, from dense jungles to rugged mountain ranges. Jaguars span from dense tropical rainforests of South America to arid North America while the mountain lion can be found from the Rocky Mountains through the deserts of Arizona and down to the jungles of South America. These big cats would not only survive in Australia, they’d thrive.”
“Cougars are extremely elusive animals. There’s a legend that goes ‘you don’t see a cougar, it sees you. And by then it’s too late.”
But Vaughan is emphatic these animals should NOT be hunted. “Big cats usually only attack humans when they’re sick or injured, or if a human is attacking them. They are naturally wary so will almost always run when they’re noticed.
“This campaign is about creating public awareness and education. It’s not about fear mongering. ”
“If there really are big cats living in the Northern Illawarra, which I believe could be the case, then residents need to be made aware.
“I know it’s a touchy subject, but I know what I’ve seen and sightings have been made right across Australia. You know what they say. Where there’s smoke….”
IF YOU HAVE SEEN WHAT YOU BELIEVE MAY BE A BIG CAT- PLEASE REPORT IT AT VAUGHAN’S WEBSITE:- www.pantherpeople.com