Vale Sharon West - M.A.R.C.A.

Sadly, Sharon West passed away on November 1, 2015. A passionate cryptozoologist, she established the Mystery Animal Research Centre of Australia.  Apart from sending out press releases and following up reported sightings of mystery striped creatures that fitted the description of the Thylacine and sightings of big cats she put out a monthly newsletter from February. 1993 to late 2009.  In December, 2010 she put out a special edition of the newsletter.

Her enthusiasm and passion for researching mystery creatures would be hard to match.

Her son, Leonard West, has compiled the following story of how Sharon became a researcher of mystery animals in Australia.

Meryl Tobin

 

Sharon West, R, catches up with researchers, L to R, Meryl Tobin (ARFRA), Jill Inglis and Jan Walker (ARFRA). 

How MARCA started:

Prior to August 1995 Mystery Animal Research Centre of Australia (MARCA) was known as Mystery Animal Association of Western Australia.  Mystery Animal Association of Western Australia was started in February 1993 as a non-profit organization beginning with the first newsletter.  The final newsletter and end of MARCA was in December 2009.  The reason for the end of MARCA was due to lack of news regarding mystery animals and family and health issues. 

The aim of Mystery Animal Research Centre of Australia and then MARCA was to work together to obtain as much information and evidence as possible, so that they could eventually prove beyond doubt that we do have some species of big cats and the Thylacine roaming our country.  The idea of forming the association was to be recognized as a group who care about our native wildlife’s welfare, as well as our own.

When Sharon started researching big cats and thylacines:

Sharon started researching the big cat and thylacine sightings around about 1983.

How Sharon became interested in Thylacines:

Adye Jordan

Adye and his wife Win were very dear friends to Sharon’s parents.  Sharon grew up knowing them as Auntie and Uncle.  Sharon learnt later in life that they were not actually blood related, though they were always considered part of the family.  To Sharon Adye Jordan was the Thylacine expert.  Sharon would sometimes refer to him as “The Tiger Man”.  Sharon became interested in thylacines after hearing tales about the animal from Adye. Adye lived in Tasmania and was a former trapper.  Until the day he died Adye knew a well hidden location where the thylacines were living and had seen them in this area regularly.  To help protect the animals Adye would never disclose the exact location.  He had told Sharon the area but not the location.

 Until the day she died Sharon believed that the Thylacine was and still is alive on the mainland and in Tasmania.  She didn’t think there was a lot of them, maybe a few small colonies scattered thought out the country.

 How Sharon became interested in big cats:

(What I can remember by Leonard)

(As best I can remember this was when Sharon first became interested in the big cats)

 Sharon and her family were on a camping trip with family friends in the south west of WA (possibly around Pemberton or Margaret River area).  Early one morning (dawn) Sharon, her two young children and a family friend were driving along a two lane road when all of a sudden a very large black cat like animal leapt in one single large bound from one side of the road to the other.  Sharon was stunned by what she and everyone else in the vehicle had just witnessed.  From that time until her death Sharon had a fascination and a very strong interest in the big cats and proving their existence in Australia.

Sharon’s sightings:

Black Panther / Cougar

Jindong, WA 1991

I was staying with some friends near Jindong and we were out spotlighting.  I had been to a local rubbish tip earlier in the day and discovered that someone had dumped some huge fish.  I thought maybe it would attract the local feral domestic cats and suggested that we come there later in the night in the hope of disposing of some of them.

At that time the actual rubbish area was surrounded by massive clay mounds.  To enter the area you had to drive between the mounds to dump rubbish.  I was driving and a friend had the control of spotlight.  We waited until we entered the rubbish area before putting the spotlight on and to our surprise there were no feral cats feeding on the fish carcasses, there was however a very, very big jet black cat having a feast of fish for its supper.

The cat was only 40-50 metres away and it did not rush off in a hurry.  It turned and slowly ran across in front of us towards one of the tallest mounds to try and escape.  At this stage I just froze and could not comprehend what I was seeing.  I could not move and I had some foul language yelled at me from my friend who wanted to get a shot at the cat but wanted me to move the car to a different angle so he did not have to get out.

The cat leapt up onto the side of the mound but it could not reach the top and it started to slide down the side of the mound.  However, the animal did get a sudden burst of energy and managed to reach the top of the mound.  It stood balanced on top for approximately a minute meanwhile the foul language was still being flung at me.  Eventually the cat disappeared down behind the clay mounds and some old cars.

It is strange but once the cat was out of sight I snapped back to reality and did as I was told.  We drove slowly pass the old cars and saw the reflection of the cats eyes shining at us and before we knew it the cat ran across the track in front of us and was heading for the road.  By the time we got out of the tip and down on to the road there was no sign of the big cat.  There were dogs barking on nearby farms and we knew that it had got away and I can tell you I was not a very popular person for the rest of the night.

We went back to the farm and had a cuppa then we decided to go back to the tip and see if the big cat had returned but there was no sign of it.

The description of this big cat is as follows: It was taller than a Doberman dog and about 6ft in the body.  The tail was very long and the cat was jet black.  Its eyes reflected as a bright emerald green.

It was so strange how the cat did not take off in a hurry and how it balanced on top of the mound for such a long time, just asking to be shot.  IF ONLY I had the video camera with me that night.  I would have got perfect film of it.

I asked my friend ‘Why didn’t you get out of the car and take aim at the cat?’  His answer was ‘No way was I getting out of the car’ End of story!’

Black Panther / Cougar 

Jindong, WA 1992

Three months after I saw the big cat feeding on the fish at the rubbish tip.  I was spotlighting in the same rubbish tip area.  This time we were in a 4x4 ute and because there was no sign of any animals in the rubbish tip we decided to go into the adjoining gravel pit area.  There were a few old cars around and a huge old tree had been uprooted and was lying on top of a high ridge of dirt.  I was controlling the spotlight and I shone it up on the root system of the fallen tree.  Instantly the light picked up the reflection of a pair of huge bright eyes that we knew belonged to the big cat.  It was sitting behind the roots and right next to it were two pairs of little blue coloured eyes.  We drove as close possible to the ridge and the driver of the ute took aim at the kitten and shot it.  We saw it somersault back off the log and my friend reloaded his rifle, grabbed a torch and went up to find the dead kitten.  I kept the spotlight on the root system and suddenly the big cat came back to her two kittens sitting behind the roots.

My friend spent what seemed like a couple of minutes looking for the kitten, but all he found was a small amount of blood.  He started to walk along the trunk of the tree towards the root system when he suddenly raised the rifle and the big cat and kittens disappeared.

My friend came back to the ute shaking and we decided to go back to the farm with the thought of coming back in the morning to have a search for the dead kitten.

The kitten that was shot looked to be size of a big domestic cat and the mother cat appeared to be bigger than a Doberman dog.  They were all black and we were approximately 30 metres away from them initially.

The following morning, we went searching for the kitten but unfortunately the weather was extremely hot and we found nothing.  We will never know what happened to the kitten.  I think that the mother cat carried it away or maybe she ate it.  Who knows!

Was this the same big cat that we saw feeding on the fish at the tip?  I believe that it was.

I think the big cat that was feeding on the fish was pregnant and nearly due to have her kittens and that is why she did not move very quickly and when she leapt upon the clay mound she was exhausted and needed to gain strength to travel on.

The time between when we saw her feeding on the fish and when we saw her with the kittens was three months.

I spoke to a friend who is a retired Game Warden from South Africa and he said that 3 month old kittens were the size of big domestic cats.

Thylacine

Jindong, WA 1996

I was driving along a road near Jindong.  I had set my video camera up ready to use in the event that an animal may cross the road.  Over the years there has been a number of thylacine like animals seen in the area.  The time was approximately 5.30pm and the weather was fine and sunny.

I was driving slowly as it was a dirt road when suddenly an animal came out of some thickets on the side of the road, from a distance of approximately thirty metres in front of me.  I stopped the car but left the engine running.  I thought the animal was a fox until it came completely onto the road.

The animal did not look at me and I thought that it was injured because the hindquarters were low to the ground, compared to the front quarters, but as the animal slowly moved across the road it seemed to lift its hind quarters and walked properly.  I realised then that it was not a fox.  At this stage I picked up the video camera and aimed it at the animal.  Unfortunately, the camera lens was zoomed in and I could not see the animal.  I quickly zoomed the lens out and then slowly zoomed in, but by this time I lost sight of the animal.

I looked back to the spot where the animal had come from and I saw another animal in the shadow of an overhanging bush.  I kept the camera on the second animal, but it didn’t come out far enough for me to film it clearly.

The second animal appeared to be a baby, and it stood approximately 8 inches high at the shoulder.  It appeared to have a dog like head and pointy snout.  Its colour was a deep tan and I couldn’t distinguish if it had stripes or not.  The tail and the hindquarters were what really took my notice.  The tail looked like a stick stuck on the body, and it was thicker at the base where it joined the body.  The tail was pointing towards the ground.

I think that when the adult animal appeared on the road with the hind quarters low down it was letting the baby out of the pouch.  A thylacine’s pouch opens from the rear and for the baby to get out of the pouch safely. Maybe the mother Thylacine lowers her rear end to the ground so that the baby can almost slide out of her pouch without falling.

All that the video film showed was some movement in the shadows on the side of the road where the baby was.  As a research member commented it is like buying a lotto ticket and finding that you have all six winning numbers then discover that you have lost the ticket.

I know that I really stuffed up with the camera, and I was so angry with myself.  Even though the adult animal did not appear to have stripes I still believe that what I saw was a thylacine or a close relative to one.

Sharon was very passionate about researching the Thylacine and big cats in Australia and although she and many others knew they did and still do exist in Australia unfortunately Sharon was never able to prove their existence to the authorities but someday someone will achieve this.  

Leonard West