The Tasmanian Tiger:Thylacinus cynocephalus
The Thylacine has been considered officially extinct in Tasmania since the death of the last zoo animal in Hobart in 1936, and the mainland animal for about 8000 years. Some 3800 mainland sightings of an animal answering the description of the Tassie Tiger on the mainland are in ARFRA files, supported by predation, vocalisations and prints. Our Tiger 2000 campaign aims to gather further information on the behaviour, predation and distribution of this animal. Distinguishing features of the Thylacine are:
- stripes across the rump and upper tail (in most individuals)
- the thickness of the tail at the rump
- the low hock (heel)
- Size: comparable with fox to large German Shepherd, depending on age and sex.
- Colour: sandy to dark brown with darker stripes.
- Gait: unusual, slow and clumsy to very fast, sometimes bounding or sitting up.
Sightings of big cats have become almost commonplace in some areas. Debate continues on how such large felids could have become established in Australia. Theories of release of mascots by American servicement after World War II, and the presumption of circus escapes, do not account for the duration and distribution of sighting reports. Big cat sightings vary from light colours to jet black, and are far too large to be domestic or feral cats. These sightings are supported by vocalisations, prints, kills and associated signs.
The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)
ARFRA is aware that witnesses occasionally report sightings of animals which do not appear to fit the descriptions of modern or recently extinct species. Several researchers have suggested that reported sightings of big cats in Australia may be ascribed to a relict population of the fossil "Marsupial Lion", Thylacoleo carnifex. However, because we cannot know the outward physical appearance of Thylacoleo, we cannot assume that the animal seen was the Marsupial Lion. It may have been an unusual variant of a known species, or even another unknown and undescribed species. We welcome details of any unusual sighting to add to our database against the day when there is enough data to warrant serious research on Thylacoleo and other unidentified animals.
See www.thylacoleo.com for further information.
ARFRA sometimes receives reports of sightings of Yowies – large homonids typically over 2m in height, covered with long body hair and normally observed in or near dense bush.
Many of these reports are from NSW and QLD but some have been received from Victoria. Anyone who has seen such a creature is encouraged to report the sighting to ARFRA. See www.yowiehunters.com for further information
The Australian Rare Fauna Research Association Inc. was founded by Peter Chapple in 1984. Since 1984 about 5,000 big cat sightings have been collected by ARFRA from Victoria alone. Our membership over time includes naturalists, scientists, farmers, park rangers, animal carers, academics, teachers etc. Reports come from people in all walks of life.
In the mid 1990s, a collection of evidence was presented to experts at the Tooronga Zoo and Australian Museum in Sydney. Although initially sceptical, they confirmed to us in writing their acceptance of the evidence, with a provisional identification of ‘probably puma’. (A Deakin University research team came up with the same conclusion.)
In about 3000 field trips and night vigils our experienced researchers have cast tracks matching those of zoo pumas, heard and recorded calls matching zoo puma audios, photographed animals predated in typical big cat fashion, and occasionally found scats, hairs and tree scratchings suggestive of big cats. Only the Gippsland cat shot by Kurt Engels has had a positive DNA identification as a domestic cat of a size otherwise unknown to science or the Guinness Book of Records. Other sightings suggest leopard, and a DNA sample from the Otways was identified as 'panther, but the sample may have been contaminated. Occasionally animals matching no familiar description remain a puzzle.
Animals have been sighted in places predicted by Peter Chapple’s careful analysis of witness reports and other evidence, indicating cyclic movement throughout their territory of both big cats and theylacines.
ARFRA has been told of pumas shot by hunters who will not come forward owing to legal complications. One such animal is claimed to have been identified by a zoo employee, his letter of confirmation lodged with a solicitor, the animal mounted by a taxidermist and stored in secret; none will come forward.
Eye-witness reports are frequently disregarded as probable misidentification, or faults of perception attributed to inexperience, unwarranted expectation, size distortion etc. yet every one of these has witnesses who do and others who do not match with these possibilities. Our reports are screened by reliability ratings, yet where more and less reliable ratings are compared via dot maps, they bring up similar results. It is also asserted that publicity accelerates unreliable reports, yet in our researchers’ experience publicity merely encourages witnesses to make their encounters known. However, derogatory responses from officials, the public and the press actively discourage people from reporting, so that a great many unreported sightings may be assumed. In recent years the number of reports received has declined as our own publicity has lessened, yet they still come to our web site, including people who have been unaware or incredulous of the presence of big cats. In our experience media reports have not caused panic but sell more papers with arresting headlines. True concern arises where numbers of farm stock are lost.
Many encounters are marked by the witness’s experience of a physiological fear reaction which is not usually reported with accounts of other types of sighting including thylacine encounters, and is independent of the existence of actual danger. This fear reaction can recur readily e.g. on return to the deserted site, or on hearing audio of a vocalisation.
Reports include members’ sightings as long as ten minutes (watching a puma-sized grey animal with two spotted young), and a black animal mating with a brown. Encounters have been as close as three metres, and almost looking through a car window.
When evidence from other web sites is added to the sheer size of our collection it is hard to believe that so many people could be totally mistaken, or that hoaxers could repeatedly produce imitations of prints, predations, and unmistakable big cat cries.