'Big cat' chaser says Gympie a Qld hotspot
A NATIONAL 'big cat' chaser has named Gympie as one of Queensland's hotspots for big cat sightings, backed with mounting reports of big cats moving through Gympie region bushland, recent and historical.
Vaughan King, founder of the Australian Big Cat Research Group website pantherpeople.com, said while Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia are a hive of reported activity "Gympie is up there Queensland-wide."
Mr King, a former Australia Zoo big cat handler based at the Sunshine Coast, said a circus trainer admitted to him that some of his circus animals were lost in the Gympie region years ago during an accident.
"Asiatic leopards were brought into the country years ago for the zoo and circus industries," the big cat spotter said.
"There's been that many sightings over the last 100 years- it's a phenomena. I'm trying to prove they do actually exist."
Mr King's interest in Gympie was sparked last month when a leopard sighting near Rainbow Beach was logged on the Australian Big Cat Research group website pantherpeople.com.
It was closely followed by a sighting at Curra last week reported to The Gympie Times that brought forth a number of comments from readers sighting 'big cats' through all reaches of the region over the years.
A Gympie Regional Council spokeswoman said the only official sighting reported to them is from Widgee about 12 months. The council investigation but a search turned up no evidence, she said.
"We are not aware of the presence of any large cats in the Gympie region," the council spokeswoman said.
While she said the council was not anticipating any problems and did not specifically have a pest management program in place for non-domestic cats, if they received a formal complaint or relevant information they would investigate.
"We would promptly investigate in cooperation with the state as this would be considered a high risk exotic species."
Mr King believes three species of 'big cat' exist in Australia: tawny-coloured mountain lion, black leopard and black jaguar, with the latter two existing in the Gympie region.
Mr King says living species in Australia could be descendants of big cats brought out as circus and zoo animals or as mascots by the American Navy.
He said big cats, who except for lions live a solitary life, will roam far and wide to find a mate and continue breeding even if numbers were very low.
He can't swallow suggestions by experts that sightings could be that of mistaken feral tom cats.
He said he's seen some 'very impressive' feral cats that might get up to 20kg, but he said big cats begin at 50kg.
"I speak to a lot of people who have nothing to gain from it," he said of gathering information about sightings.
"I'll take every sighting with a pinch of salt, but if someone takes the time to report their sightings I will believe them."
"I don't mind being the representative for crazy," he joked.
Large exotic cats, such as panthers, mountain lions and leopards are legally classified as 'prohibited biosecurity matter' under the Biosecurity Act 2014.
The Gympie Regional Council said if it came to dealing with a big cat in Gympie, Biosecurity Queensland would take the lead with the Gympie Regional Council assisting.
GYMPIE TIMES FB COMMENT
Danielle Ryan-Mills: This panther like thing is what I kept seeing on our block.
Cloe Spencer: Yes, there was a big cat noise coming from the bush at Mary River out The Palms way, was definitely something from the big cat family.
Alicia Dodd: Feral cats can be huge, as big as large dogs sometimes.
Melissa Morris: Most definitely those suckers are everywhere.
Linda Goldenstein: No cats......big black dingo/dog.
Rebecca Osborne: They still don't believe. Its a fair call I suppose, but when you see it, you never forget.
Sharon Brown: My sister and I saw one at Neusavale Road Wolvi about 30 years ago! Not a cat or dog - panther like .
Kaye Godbee: One seen down end of golden hills road glastonbury
Barbara Richardson: I have seen two in the Cooroy region.