In March 2008, New South Wales resident "TC Girl" (pseudoname) reported a sighting she and a friend made 8 months in July 2007. Having travelled into rarely visit country on her friend's property (which also adjoins national park land) they came across a very black large marsupial predator which had a splash of white on its chest not unlike a Tasmanian devil. It has since been compared to a big cat (although most agree it's a marsupial) and giant quoll but most agree it best describes thylacoleo.
"Cat / Giant Quoll"
A sighting was recently reported on my colleague's forum at the Quest for Thylacoleo which merits mention. The witness went into great detail to describe the animal she saw in July 2007. Her introduction begins with the description "Cat / Giant Quoll" however, all through the details she reiterates: "I keep saying 'cat-like' but this is not a cat."
The location is a 120 acre bush property near Singleton, New South Wales, owned by a friend who is referred to in the story as 'R'. R has apparently seen the animal 3 times although this sighting was the first and only sighting for the witness - "TC Girl".
Following are the unedited details of TC Girl and R's sighting:
R & I have had 3 sightings of large big cat/marsupial type animals on R's 120 acre property in the Singleton Shire (near Newcastle). (R=3 - me=the following 1). Have been there maybe a dozen times (just a few hours each time) and 3 sightings between us. I wonder what we'd see if we camped up there (with cameras) for a whole weekend!? I don't know if I'm game to though. It is quite isolated although quite near neighbouring farms. It's land-locked. Only access on foot. No good for farming of any sort. It's just fairly heavy, very steep bush land. R tells me there is a semi-permanent spring fed creek that runs down the mountain after rain. Took me up the (very deep actually) ravine it ran through (dry at the time) but if you dig in the sand there's water. There are pools and you can see where there would be a couple of wonderful (7m+?) waterfalls when the water is flowing. When it rains there is a raging "creek" for a few hours. This is where R had the previous two sightings - (later!) tells me. There's lots of sheer cliff faces, heaps of caves high up on the top of the mountain & the very top 30-40 acres, no-one has been there for decades apparently, according to the locals (even R ... until June). It goes up over the mountain range ridge and adjoins a large national/state park (will have to find out the name). People just simply don't go up there. Too hard. Nothing to see or do they say - they call it "useless land". It's inaccessible to a vehicle of any sort (you have to walk/climb from the bottom).
Last year an old Forestry worker told R we can access the top of the property by 4WD through several neighbouring properties from the other side of the mountain range (we know a couple of neighbours) & then walking several km's to the top of R's land (after the 4WD spits the dummy at the terrain - which it did). He said he took some big trees out of the "top" about 40-50 years ago. There were not that many trees that interested them so they didn't go back. He doubts anyone has been there ever since. (We later see that it looks like no-one else had been up there for a very long time. But I would say no-one in 10-20 years - not his estimated 40-50 years - but, he's not to know of course. We found the trees his team took out - about five - huge trees they must have been. The biggest living tree there currently is maybe [three quarters] the size of those stumps. They are very old stumps. Yep - about 40-50 years - so that bit's right.) Ok - I'm getting carried away with terrain. My friends tell me I don't write emails - I write novels!! Moving right along.
So we went there at the end of June. We took a third person with us. We were bored one weekend and just decided to drive up there and see how far we can get. We were not so bored once we got there!
2-3 hours later we get as far as the 4WD will get us. We are on a track laid down about 50 years ago. The track is clear straight in front for another 50 metres and very low grass/bush to either of the vehicle several metres. But we had to stop at that point as the big June storms had created an impassable landslide. We are on the top of the mountain ridge so it is pretty clear & its broad daylight.
Just after we stop, right in front of us, a very large black animal comes out of the bush to the right of us, lopes in front of the 4WD, starts to halt, whilst turning its head to glare at us. He/she & I locked eyeballs - it did a quick lip curling snarl up the left side of its face & gave a flash of very weird looking teeth, very BIG teeth - so scary - will never forget that face or the look it gave me. I honestly thought it was sizing me up for a quick mid-day snack. It then picks up speed (very quickly) and then bounds across the track in front of us and into the bush at the left side (still looking back right at (gulp!) me - I thought it's head would snap right off it was looking at me that intently). Neither R nor I are normally scared by any animal but THAT animal (as wonderful as it was) scared me silly. Our other friend, on knees in the dirt, was busy fooling around with the front wheels of the 4WD and missed the action (but heard all the noise ... mostly from R & I - two bodies simultaneously diving into a 4WD, doors being slammed shut and locks being punched down make a lot of noise ... no we didn't really lock our friend outside the 4WD ... did we?!?!? Ok ... being serious now ...
A description: This is going to sound weird I know. I've never seen anything like it (and I thought I knew my animals, being an "Aussie Country Girl"). I saw it in broad daylight right in front of me. As it was against the light tan of the sand/dirt track with no vegetation to obscure anything, I could see so clearly - even down to its feet and (longish) toes. It's burned into my brain. He/She was big. VERY big. Ah - too big actually. Estimate of weight: I'm struggling here. I have a 30kg (she was the runt of the litter & wouldn't eat!) Rotti x Mastiff and it was well over twice her size. Two friends have Bullmastiffs. This was bigger than either of those two dogs. I asked my mates what their BMs weigh. They said about 50 & 60kg respectively (F & Male). So, I would say around 70-80kg in weight. Length & height: (once again comparing to the BMs) have to be 70cm shoulder; hind quarters seemed slighty lower -60-65cm but that may have been the way it held it's body; length: can't put a measurement to it but quite long bodied - about the same height:length ratio as one of the big cats - long bodied - supple.
Colour: All black with a white (tinge of beige/dirt?) "flash" possibly starting under jaw, but definitely down throat and onto chest (got wider on chest - splayed out towards shoulder fronts) - similar to a Tasmanian Devil's marks actually, but not as wide across the chest as a Devil. Saw no other spots, stripes, leg markings & no other colour on the body. Beautiful black fur. So shiny. (I wished I could have touched it - probably the last thing I would have touched on this earth I guess!) Short fur. Didn't look soft fur though - looked coarse & thick, but ever so shiny. It was in magnificent condition as far as I could tell.
Build: Very heavily muscled. This animal oozed strength. It had large powerful shoulders and a big, wide muscled chest. Body was quite long but tapered off down to (proportionately) slightly smaller hindquarters for an animal this size - but even they were heavily muscled on the thighs (but they were slightly more slender in proportion to its big shoulders & chest - if that makes sense). Its back wasn't quite flat or even dipped (ie. like a big cat) - had a slight "hump" to it towards the rump (near top of hips). The front legs were long and thick with big paws, and it appeared to have large thick (black?) claws in long thick toes. The muscles and tendons were very well defined in the front legs (it was a very tense animal). The back legs were more slender but still powerful. Big paws on the back too. The lower half of the rear legs (ie. shin bone) were much shorter than the top half (say thigh bone) - sort of like the proportions of a Tassie Tiger's back legs but thicker. Frankly, the back legs didn't look like they "matched" the front legs. The paws were quite big & they sort of "flopped" when it moved - like a big cat when they trot along. But the "toes" were different to a cat (or dog) - more slender & defined. (Later I tried to imagine what size claws this animal would have if it extended them fully like my domestic cat and I don't want to think about it again actually because they must be awesome.) When it moved, it loped in long quite graceful leaps, with the front end moving more like a dog but the rear end sort of going like a cat (a bit "hoppy" but, at the same time, actually running - not hopping - OK - that really didn't make sense. Hard to describe. It moved more like a big cat but there was something different about the way a cat moves in the hind leg/hip section.)
It speeded up after it checked us out and when it hit the scrub on the other side of the track it was moving extremely fast. Great acceleration. This animal can move very fast when it wants to. Just a huge push of those back legs and it was ... off! But, judging by it's build I would say it's a "sprinter" only. Ok, the head was amazing - like a cat but not like a cat. That's the only way I can describe it.
[Ed: TC Girl's PC dropped out after drafting the above. She picked up the story again as follows...]
Continuing on the head: broad, massive skull, big muscles down the cheeks/jaws, very "big cat" like but the muzzle itself was longer. Nose a bit bigger than a "cat-type nose" & black & shiny. Eyes (tawny brown colour?, not 100% sure). Eyes set just like a cat, to the front, with a heavy brow above them. Very penetrating "intelligent" eyes. Medium length whiskers. Cat like lips. Ears were quite short and pointed and set on the head like a cat - thicker than cat ears though. Teeth were weird - not like a cat. More "marsupial" type teeth at front. Big ones at the front. Not off to the side where you would expect canines to be. Seemed to be a gap up the side of jaw (where canines would normally be) and then more big thick teeth through to the back. Big solid molars. Closer together than a dog or cat. Could crunch through anything it wanted, I would think.
I keep saying "cat-like" but this is not a cat.
What a truly wonderful, amazing animal. My big "Cat-that-is-not-a-Cat" ... And here's the clincher ... my digital camera (which went with me everywhere last year - it was my new little toy) had been sitting right next to me on the back seat of the 4WD. I was so in awe (and, yes, frightened) that I didn't reach in and grab it!
Too many details?
So what to make of this story? As one commentator pointed out, such a rich description is bound to bring cries of "foul!". To think about it, there is indeed very much detail here: toe lengths, tooth arrangements.
From my understanding of visual-spatial learning styles, people with this strength typically do "write novels" instead of emails (to use TC Girl's own words). This is because retaining visual information is natural for them - they can often picture a scene or event long after it's happened, and recall minute details. The reason their descriptions come across as wordy is that written or verbal communication is linear (and people with strengths in this area are often termed "audio-sequential" learners).
All this is to say that it is completely reasonable for a visual-spatial thinker to be able to record the level of detail that TC Girl provides (and then to communicate that using rich descriptive text).
The hips and back
One of the most interesting details to stand out in this account is that the hips ride higher than expected. I do understand that marsupial hip construction is notably different than placental hips (in quadrupeds) however I am still learning to discern this visually. Suffice to say that this observation may back up TC Girl's own note that this appeared to be a marsupial
Those familiar with Debbie's forum will know that the question has been posed several times: could some of Australia's big cat sightings actually have resulted from black morphs of the marsupial lion, thylacoleo? Without having any concrete proof of the colouration of thylacoleo, TC Girl's observations of the animal's colour are interesting, but unusable. The white splash on the chest (resembling the colouration of a Tasmanian devil) is a point to note.
Another commentator remarked that dentition is extremely useful in identifying species. Amongst marsupials, this is almost uniformly true. Depending on TC Girl's ability to recall this detail vividly, a sketch of her recollections would help significantly in this area.
TC Girl noted that the animal accelerated rapidly. Although I don't have the accounts to hand, I have read a story of a farmer who saw 2 thylacoleos at least 100 years ago. From memory he also noted that the animals departed the scene at speed.
The overall body proportions (lower at the hind legs, muscular front, less muscular rear) match "Rilla's Critter" - an animal photographed in 1964 in Victoria. Further, that general body shape matches the thylacine and Tasmanian devil (i.e. Australian carnivorous marsupials).
Hopefully there is much more to come in this story. R, and the third person at the sighting could each contribute their version of events. R could also describe the other two sightings he or she has made. TC Girl could sketch the animal, or have someone draw a sketch for her based on her descriptions and corrections. In particular, a sketch of the teeth could be useful. As has been suggested on the forum, TC Girl can examine models, illustrations, paintings and skeletons of thylacoleo and provide an opinion on a match. (I believe a black model existed at one time - unlike the brown animal depicted in the painting accompanying this article).
Ultimately, we all know that eye-witness testimony will never be accepted as proof. The skeptics will argue that the details are too perfect for this to be a genuine sighting (let alone the accepted extinction date for thylacoleo) but others will argue that consistent sightings are exactly the thing that points to a real animal.
The most interesting detail to my mind, is that the sighting occurred only 8 months ago. There should be ample opportunity to make a thorough search for further evidence of this animal. An examination of the terrain and surrounding landscape should give some indication of whether this creature is restricted to the 120 acre property, or has a larger territory to roam. 120 acres is not at all large (and some would argue too small for an animal of this size) - so I expect there will be plentiful bushland surrounding the location.
Soon after publication of the Singleton thylacoleo report, one enthusiast has posted a $1000 reward for a genuine photograph of the creature.
In an interesting twist, one enthusiast named Mike, also known as mingle has offered a $1000 reward for "a genuine photograph of this Singleton creature."
The conditions are not complex, there is no obvious closing date and there is no claim to exclusivity. In his words, Mike is "somewhat sceptical, but I certainly have an open mind - and wallet!"
By way of comparison, seen above is a sculpture of thylacoleo from Paleocraft which was designed and painted by Sean Cooper. It is one of the few depictions showing a nearly-black coat colour. Most renditions of thylacoleo show a tan colour consistent with the placental equivaluent of the marsupial lion. Some show patchy blotches and depict the animal in trees believing its speciation began with a tree-dwelling herbivore which adapted to a carnivorous diet - possibly fuelling Australia's drop bear myth.
Seen here is the same mold painted entirely black by Jeff Johnson. You can see why many regulars on the thylacoleo forum argue that at least some of Australia's big cat sightings (the vast majority of which are of melanistic, or black, cats) may actually be misidentifications of thylacoleo.
Thank you to Jeff for the photo of his sculpture, and clarification on who painted which version!