The Emmaville Panther
I said I wasn't going to let myself be deflected from the main topic by talking about other matters or including material of which I have no personal experience. This one is, it seems to me, significant enough to relax the rule.
The Emmaville Panther from New South Wales, along with the Queensland Wildcat, the Gippsland Thylacine and the Grampians Lion, is one of Australia's most famous manifestations of a cryptic animal. It has a history of sightings, stock kills and mystery tracks which goes back for decades. The scenario is very similar to the one outlined for central Victoria on my other pages.
It's generally described as a large cat-like animal. In fact the description, both of it's appearance and behaviour, matches pretty closely with the critter which I'm investigating in Victoria. The fact that the attentive reader will note minor discrepancies in the Emmaville beast's appearance and the Victorian animal weighs in its favour: I get mighty suspicious when different accounts of the same thing tally too closely.
The Emmaville Panthers are said to inhabit the New England Ranges, a rugged area of NSW. Sightings, when they occur, often are not isolated rarities told of by a few questionable individuals. They are reported by people who come across as sobre, level-headed country types. Sometimes there are outbreaks when large numbers of farm stock are killed and many of the 'cats' are seen. During an outbreak in 1956-57, 340 sheep were killed on a property, 'Pretty Gully' near Uralla, owned by a Mr Berry (REF: "Out of the Shadows" pp 59-63). The condition of the carcasses matched the much more recent, actually ongoing, stock kills in Victoria. Bodies neatly sliced'n'diced, nothing like the shredded mess left by wild dogs.
Thoughts on the matter ...
It should be evident that this 'big cat' phenomenon, particularly when it occurs as an 'outbreak' is no limit-of-resolution, hard-to-discern affair of the shadows. It's gross and unmistakable when it happens. Then it moves away for a time. But always it returns, after a break, to the same localities. I thought, at first, maybe it was some kind of mass hallucination or hysteria. But, by now, I have first hand, believable, accounts and some physical traces.
Most mass hallucinations I've read about tend to be regarded as something a little out of the ordinary by the participants. A bit like an apparition of the Virgin, say, which attracts hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hopefuls. Definitely not a normal part of the everyday backdrop over scores of years and hardly worthy of comment except to warn visitors to keep away from certain parts for fear of the 'cats'. Well, that's the way this thing is regarded by folks who live near its usual haunts.
Besides, an hallucination does not leave photographable tracks, it does not leave scores, sometimes even hundreds, of slaughtered farm animals in its wake, it does not turn and disembowel an attack dog when pursued by a pack. Even upon a closed mind, such a phenomenon fairly forces the question, 'What the hell's going on here?'.
The fact that the whole business is ridiculed or dismissed, in a knee jerk sort of reflex, by working zoologists says more, I think, about the social division in Australia between the people who experience the phenomenon and those whom society regards as properly qualified to investigate it. OK, I know - what we need is a specimen.
"EMMAVILLE TRACKS" Clickable Image (264KB)
This is one of a number of photographs of tracks left by the "panther", kindly provided by Chad Harris, of Tingha, near Emmavile, New South Wales. As can be seen, they resemble the ones photographed by me in Victoria (September, 1998). In particular, a fifth digit, an opposable thumb, appears to be a feature of the animal's front pad.
For readers' interest, I quote excerpts from a 1969 article in the Sydney "Sun" newspaper. It relates a story told by one Arthur Davies, an experienced rabbit-trapper of Torrington, NSW, 10 km from Emmaville. Mr Davies claimed to have trapped a marsupial panther back in 1939. (I know: it's a third hand story. But the beast's description is first rate and, if it's to be believed, gives a good idea of the sort of animal we might be looking for.) Excerpt from Sydney "Sun" newspaper article, March 11, 1969 pp 258-259 by Keith Willey
The Beast that Lives in the Ranges
"... I'd set one trap ...
"The beast was caught by the right leg. I reckon it was about the size of a large Alsatian dog. It was cat-like but under it's tail it had the distinct hump which is characteristic of a marsupial."
"The museum in Sydney sent me a drawing of a thylacine, but it wasn't that. This was something new. It had sharp claws about one and a half inches long which it could poke in and out like a cat. It would produce them from nowhere and they were beauties too."
"It had a long nose, sharp and slightly turned up at the snout. The mouth came right back under the ears - six inches back. It would take your leg into its mouth quite easily. Those tremendous jaws were full of teeth, including four great fangs, two on top, two on bottom, each a couple of inches long and curving slightly backward."
"I've seen panthers and leopards in the zoo and it wasn't one of them. As for native cats and tiger cats, there was just no resemblance - even apart from the size."
"The animal was dark brown with black stripes and the stripes were more prominent at the rear. They sort of faded into the fur in front. Leading down to the tail, the stripes had feathered edges. The tail was striped for part of the way and it ended in a tuft of hair."
"The body seemed to be lower in front than at the back. It was shaped something like a kangaroo when it's down feeding, only it was deeper chested. It had big paws. The front legs were thick and strong and it bounded about on all fours. The ears were triangular, more peaky than a 'roo's, and it would twitch them backward and forward. As it sprang at me, it would make a noise in its throat like a flock of parrots taking off."
"I grabbed a long stick and belted the thing. The stick was thicker than my arm but the beast splintered the end like it was nothing. It would strike with its feet and teeth. I've got a good eye but I had a lot of shots before I got one home. I belted and belted it until it had blood pouring from its nostrils."
"I was sure it was dead and I dragged
it onto a log. I tell you it was heavy. I had a good look at the thing
as it lay there with its blood dripping on the ground. Then I went away
to get a horse so I could take the body down the road. ...
"For a week I went back to that
place with a 0.32 rifle. I was determined to get this thing. ...
"It saw me at the same time. With a quick, tremendous leap of at least three yards it disappeared down a crevice. I never saw one of them again. These animals are fast and slinky and will go for their lives on sight. But, believe me, don't corner one - they are fast and dangerous."
Arthur allowed he was not much of an artist but he drew a sketch of his marsupial panther. Artist Rod Scott drew this image from a rough sketch by Arthur Davies.
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