Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers Paperback – 20 Mar 2010
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Sightings of big cats are relatively common all across Australia. The book features reports from Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, including the suburbs of Sydney. The authorities consider the cat sightings an urban legend, but sometimes a scared public has forced at least token action from reluctant federal bureaucrats or the odd state premier. Williams and Lang consider the ABCs to be real, flesh-and-blood creatures, but if so, where do the big cats come from?
One popular explanation is that escapees from zoos, private menageries or circuses have established themselves in the wild. Real life exotic cats *do* escape from confinement on a semi-regular basis - the book reports several such cases, two of them in the same small town, Broken Hill (both lions). There is also the curious case of an African pygmy hippo (!!) shot in the jungles of the Northern Territory, a confirmed escapee from a private menagerie. It's certainly theoretically possible for big cats to establish themselves in Australia, but the problem with the phantom cats goes deeper, since they are spotted all across the continent.
Another popular theory is that the elusive felines are descendants of mascots brought by U.S. troops during World War II. When the troops moved on to Japan or elsewhere, they supposedly released their pet cougars into the wild, rather than shooting them. A touchy-feely story, and although the book shows a few photos of soldiers with lion cubs, there is no real evidence for a massive introduction of big cats during the mid-1940's. In fact, people spotted ABCs already before the war. It's almost as if one urban legend is being used to explain another. This particular story is common all across Australia, and also in New Zealand.
The authors of "Australian Big Cats" have come up with some intriguing suggestions of their own. They discuss the possible survival of the Queensland Tiger and the Thylacine. They also believe that feral domestic cats (of which there are millions in Australia) might have evolved into out-sized creatures. The idea of a feral tomcat being the size of a cougar or leopard sounds bizarre, but the authors have dug up three jumbo-sized cats shot by hunters. The Larry Beppington cat was 117 cm, the Alpine Man cat was 123 cm and the monstrous Kurt Engel cat was a whooping 170 cm and weighed 30 kg. The last catch is particularly hard to believe, especially since Engel threw away the carcass, but he kept a very long tail to back up his story. There are also some photos. I suppose it's *possible* that EVIL-ution might favour mutant ninja cats down under, but why haven't more been killed by hunters?
While Williams and Lang shy away from overtly paranormal explanations, some of their stories reflect the paranoia typical of UFO research. Witnesses have been threatened by mysterious agents, entire boxes of documents have disappeared, and the authors had to use the Freedom of Information Act to secure the release of some key documents, including letters to the proper authorities from wildlife inspectors supporting the existence of big cats.
There, the book ends, somewhat inconclusively. That being said, "Australian Big Cats" is nevertheless a good addition to the private libraries of Forteans or mystery buffs...
However, these Australian dwellers are not the stuff of foggy folklore, and exist in some reasonably impressive photographs, and of course that ever elusive film footage which seems, rather hilariously, to drive most big cat `researchers' mad in their quest for their own Holy Grail. Rebecca and Mike look at the facts, and debate whether Thylacoleo carnifex - a large marsupial cat - could still exist thousands of years after its alleged extinction. They examine reports of large cats escaping into the Australian bush, some as rumour, some as fact, backed up with photographs. The book eliminates the suspects, sifts through the mounting evidence, and also proves, startlingly, that the scrublands and forests of Australia are also inhabited by truly gigantic feral cats, one of which had its head blown off by a hunter. These monster moggies are a mystery in a field of their own, but are clearly no match for the eye-witness reports which suggest that black leopard and puma hide in the woodlands.
Written without bias, Australian Big Cats despite its size (and weight!) is an engrossing read (I read it straight through in two days), and it comes highly recommended. As a full-time researcher myself, I take my hat off to Rebecca and Mike for giving us a unique glimpse into what lurks in the shadows Down Under.
With so many eye-witness reports and evidence piling up, I'm pretty sure their sequel may not have to include the word `unnatural' in its title, because surely it's only a matter of time before such animals are taken seriously. And it's books such as this which go a long way to aiding us in our quest for the truth. Get your paws on a copy now.
Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang have written an astonishing book, not only for the obvious research and presentational professionalism but the fact that it is so utterly thought provoking. If you are interested in big cats this book really is for you. Even if you aren't I suggest this is a cracking read for anyone curious about such issues. What are these cats? Where are they and most importantly, how on earth did they get there? This book contains many photographs (some quite shocking), real life accounts, press stories, anecdotes and historical information to whet the appetite. In essence this is about the search to find the truth. It's obviously hard work but they are indefatigable in their quest. The best compliment I can give the book is to say that it has made me want to go back to Australia and be part of the 'future story'. Maybe I will be lucky enough to find something and be able to contribute. Does such a cat exist in Australia today? I can but quote the authors who say " The truth what little we know of it, is in here". It is said that 'what is written without effort is generally read without pleasure'. I can confidently assure any prospective buyer that you will gain much pleasure from reading this and it is a book you will want to keep handy at the front of the bookcase. I genuinely do not know of another book quite like it... a compelling read!
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