On the Trail of the Big Cat
On the Trail of the Big Cat
By Paul Clacher
*Keen fossicker Paul Clacher first came across evidence of big cats in Australia quite by accident 10 years ago. Since that time he has kept an eye out for signs of the beasts, and here recounts his own brushes with one of the enigmas of the Australian bush.
The Big Cat Footprint
In 1991 I was fossicking for gold with my metal detector in Jones’ Creek near Tarnagulla, which is just North of Dunolly in Victoria. I had walked up Jones’ Creek for about a kilometre swinging my detector when I swung my detector over a footprint impression in soft brown clay type mud in the creek. The footprint was about 6 to 7 inches in diameter and was that of a large cat.
My instant reaction was to swear, go into a cold sweat and to reach down to unclip the holder on the machete hanging from my belt. Almost at once I realised the folly of this thought and said to myself there are no lions in Australia. I knelt down and examined the footprint. It was an exact imprint of a very big cat.
What I found rather strange though, was that the claws were very clearly visible in the clay. This really put me off, as I knew that cat’s claws were retractable. So I then started to try to convince myself that what I was looking at was the print of a wombat. I really knew to myself though that it was the print of a very big cat.
Several months later my family and I were staying at the Tarnagulla Caravan Park and were at the hotel one afternoon when I mentioned the footprint to the publican. Well I really thought that I had really put my foot in it when the entire bar went totally quiet and all the patrons just looked at me. Oh shit I thought, as the publican walked over to a spot behind the bar and pulled out a white object. He then walked over to me and placed a plaster cast of a cat print on the bar and said to me, “what like that”. My reply to him was “no the footprint I saw was much bigger”.
Everyone in the bar then said “oh you must have seen the big black one then”. I was then shown a copy of the Local tourist News. In it was a phone number and the request, “have you seen big cats other than feral cats”? if so please phone the listed number. I phoned this number and found out much more about these cats. In fact many people have seen them.
The Stuart Mill Incident
Several years later, I was camped at the head of a Gully near Stuart Mill in Victoria. It was probably on a Saturday evening about 7 pm and it was on dusk. Initially I heard a huge racket of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos screeching in the gully just below the dam. The dam was about 100 metres from my camp. I was standing at the campfire and from memory was enjoying a coffee at the time. The Cockatoos were on the lower side of the dam. The racket was enormous. This went on for about 30 seconds maybe 1 minute.
Then I heard it. It was the sound of a very large animal, (at the time I thought is sounded like a large cat) snarling and growling. It sounded big, like a mountain lion type size. Not quite as loud as a lion but pretty close. The snarling growling was moving close to my camp, so I decided to head to the car and secure my self in the car for protection. At that time I also decided I would call it an early night.
As it was getting dark, and the fact that the animal was on the other lower side of the dam I was unable to see it from the campfire area. I can tell you also that I was not about to go and have a look either. I did not want to become supper for some animal that is not supposed to exist in the Australian bush. The Gully is about 10 km west of Stuart Mill Northwest off the Rostron Road.
Sighting Texas - Stanthorpe Road
During 1995 a friend of mine was driving with her husband along the dirt Texas Stanthorpe Road when she called out to her husband "Did you see that". He said no. She said to him that he had better back up and have a better look. So they did. They reversed back up for about 100 metres until they got to a very large dead tree which was lying on its side.
Lying a straddle on the tree was a very large black cat. I was told that it just lay there looking at them both and made no attempt to run. I understand it was basking in the sun. The cat, I was told, was not a wild or domestic cat, it was of Panther proportions. At first, both had trouble accepting what they were looking at. But after a while they agreed that they were looking at a very large cat which was not a wild pussy cat.
The location of the cat was about a third the way along the road from the Texas side going towards Stanthorpe. The tree was about a metre in diameter and it was just before where the road heads up into the hills. The cat lay about ten metres from the car.
About 1 July 1999 we were driving back from Bingara on the Copeton Road when I saw a carcass on the side of the road. I pulled the car over and observed the carcass of a sheep (see below) which had been completely eaten out. There were large and numerous teeth marks on the rib cage. The kill was fresh. There was no odour to the carcass and absolutely no flesh left on the skeleton. There were no ants in sight either.
She described the colour of the animal as a sandy light brown. It was also about 60 centimetres high to the top of its back. We walked around to where she had seen the animal. The area was a swamp / pond type area with a car track on the Northern side of the water. I walked into the area with a big stick just in case. I was looking for foot prints, but found none.
This is what I've seen and experienced over the years, it opens your eyes a bit. Have you had any experiences like mine? What do you think, please let me know? Email the author Paul Clacher here.
Paul Clacher retains sole copyright ã 2000 for this article.