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MYSTERIOUS MARSUPIALS: POUCHED PREDATORS WRITTEN OFF BY MAINSTREAM SCIENCE - PART 2

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 4:05 AM

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First Posted on October 14, 2007; Revised June 2012


MYSTERIOUS MARSUPIALS

Pouched Predators Written Off By Mainstream Science - Part 2


Researched, Compiled, Edited and Illustrated

By R. Merrill


THE QUEENSLAND MARSUPIAL LION


Though rarely sighted today, the Queensland marsupial lion is Australia's answer to local mystery cats. Also known as the Yarri, Queensland tiger, or striped marsupial cat, the animals description varies from a cat-headed thylacine to a half-grown tiger, but always that of a round-faced dingo-sized carnivore. The earliest described sighting is from 1705, from Batavia, describing an animal 18" at the shoulder, with a catlike face and stripes from the small of its back to the end of its tail, as does the thylacine. One report from Queensland from the same time period describes a round-faced yellow animal with black stripes and a long tail. The account describes the animal as being tracked and flushed out of tall grass by a dog, and then being chased up a tree, before racing back down again at the dog. As thylacines cannot climb trees, even dubious mainland ones, we can discount it as a suspect in this case.


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Norwegian zoologist Carl Lumholtz in the 1800's recorded, from local aborigines, an animal like a dingo, but with shorter legs and with bands encircling its entire body. Reportedly, it could climb trees and lived in rocky areas. Early in the 1900's, George Sharp describes seeing an animal that was "larger and darker" than the thylacine, with distinct stripes. One was shot by a farmer when attacking his goats, after which Sharp found a body, half eaten by pigs, and judged it to be about five feet long. Sadly, though, he had no means of preserving the remains.


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Ion L. Idriess of York peninsula once saw one disembowel an adult kangaroo along the Alice River. In a separate encounter, he found the body of one that had been killed fighting with a staghound, which lay nearby. The animal was described as the size of a hefty mid-sized dog, striped in black and grey, and with feet armed with lance-like claws "of great tearing strength". The animal had pointed pricked ears and a tiger-shaped head. One was found eating a dead calf between Munna creek and Tiaro in 1930 by G. de Touroeur and P. B. Scougall. It was described as 'nearly the size of a mastiff, of a dirty fawn color, with a whitish belly, and broad blackish stripes." The animal's head was round with prominent "lynx-like" ears and a tail that reached to the ground, with large pads. A few stones tossed at the animal caused it to crouch low and issue a "raspy" snarl, similar to that of a leopard. They eventually chased it off with stock whips. A 1982 report described the animal as having a round, broad head and teeth that protruded like tusks. More recent reports are somewhat lacking, but still present.


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In 1982, a leopard-sized animal with a catlike gait and a striped tail was seen near Perth. In 1984, a panther-sized striped animal was seen eating a sheep while perched in a tree. A hunter in 1987 near Hughenden saw a large 'hay-colored' animal with black body stripes attack and eat a dingo the hunter had wounded and was pursuing. The most recent significant sighting was a body found in mid-September 1995 along the Bruce Highway, twelve and a half miles from Cardwell. It was the size of a small cattle dog, female, with a catlike face, short pointed ears, and with distinct stripes near the chest. The stripes were spaced on a dark tan background, and the tail had a tiny, white tip. The remains were regarded as too mangled to make a positive identification. The Ozenkadnook tiger, though more often thought of as a thylacine, is occasionally described with markings similar to the Queensalnd marsupial lion. New Guinea striped beasts are also sometimes described as having a catlike head. Reports of black panthers and pumas are typically classed as ABC's or Phantom Felids.


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Only one real (if only formerly) animal matches the description of the Queensland marsupial lion; the extinct Thylacoleo. Though there are thought to have been several species of Thylacoleo, including crassidentatus and hilli, only Thylacoleo carnifex, the largest and most widespread species, is considered to be a possible candidate. Also called the marsupial lion, T. carnifex was a carnivorous member of the order Diprotodonta, which it shares with wombats, koalas and kangaroos. The animal certainly resembles the Queensland marsupial lion in most of the obvious aspects; the catlike head is most apparent. The long digits and oversized heavily clawed paws are found both in fossils and in modern descriptions, as are the aboreal habits in which such paws are used. The size is also a match, as Thylacoleo was about the size of a leopard, and also had a large heavy head with a muscular neck, both which seem to fit most reports. Even the rare report of protruding teeth seems to match, as Thylacoleo had enlarged incisors to act as canines (the true canines were reduced to stubs). Teeth positioned like that very well may have protruded from the mouth under some circumstances. Even the ears are shown as small and set back in Thylacoleo reconstructions. The only real discrepancy is that Thylacoleo had proportionately long limbs for its size, while some reports of the marsupial lion describe rather short legs. Possibly this is due to comparing the marsupial lion to animals with long thin legs, such as the dingo.


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Though more closely related to wombats than real lions, Thylacoleo carnifex was called the "marsupial lion" because of its similar size to an African lion, predatory nature and cat-like skull. The name translates to "marsupial lion executioner", or "meat-maker". The name "carnifex" for this animal was first used in 1859 by Sir Richard Owen.


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History


Timeline


The marsupial lion once lived in the rainforests of Queensland. More than 8 different species of marsupial lions have been identified, culminating in Thylacoleo carnifex. They were the largest mammal predator in Australia during the Ice Age. Skull and teeth fragments have been found throughout Australia, but the Western and Tasmanian specimens are thought to be smaller than those in the east.


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Fossil Collection


Thomas Mitchell collected the first marsupial lion remains from the Wellington Valley region in New South Wales in the early 1830s. More skull fragments were found in 1845, southwest of Melbourne, Victoria. The marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) was described in detail about 1859 by the noted British paleontologist Sir Richard Owen (known as the first person to use the term "dinosaur"). He described the marsupial lion as "one of the fiercest and most destructive of predatory beasts".


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Order Diprotodontia


The two front incisor teeth place the marsupial lion in the Order Diprotodontia, which includes the primarily herbivorous kangaroos, koalas, possums and wombats. Sir Richard Owen stated in 1866 that the marsupial lion "exemplifies the simplest and most effective dental machinery for predatory life and carnivorous diet known in the mammalian class, It is the extreme modification, to this end, of the Diprotodont-type of Marsupialia".


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Family Thlacoleonidae


It has been placed in its own family (Thlacoleonidae) but there is some disagreement that they may have descended from either the family of the pygmy possums (Burramyidae) or wombats. In the late 1800s and early 1900s it was thought they might be more accurately described as hyenas, but that was abandoned due to the lack of "cingulum" structure to protect the teeth from bone crunching.


Biology


The cat-like "marsupial lion" had short skulls, powerful jaws, huge incisor teeth, sharp cheek teeth and semi-opposable thumb claws.


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Size


Marsupial lions are often described as close in size to African lions. An article by Dr. Stephen Wroe noted that while over time there have been many conflicting reports of the marsupial lion's weight—ranging from 44 lb to 220 lb—recent research places their weight firmly at 200+ pounds. This is exceptionally large as only about 5 placental cats known to have existed exceeded 220 lb. The marsupial lions could reach a length of about 6 1/2 feet. They may have been shorter than today's large cats, but weighed more given their height. Males may have been larger than females.


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Skull


A number of skull fossils have been found. Like many carnivorous mammals, their skulls are short and broad (brachycephalic). One example of the skull was 10 1/4 inches long and 9 inches wide. The jaws are also short, and their close proximity to the joints that help the jaws open and close help them apply more power and force to their bites. The placement of the eyes allow for binocular vision to assist hunting. Interestingly, both the Australian marsupial lion and the South American marsupial saber-tooth tiger have a "postorbital bar" (a connection of bone in the skull) that is rare in carnivores.


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Marsupial lions are known for their teeth and powerful bite from fossil specimens. Interestingly, they didn't have canine teeth like wolves or lions and were reduced to mere pegs. Instead they had large first incisors, described by Sir Richard Owen in 1871 as "adapted for piercing, holding and lacerating, like the canine of a carnivore". They had blade-sharp cheek teeth 3rd premolars called specialized "carnassial" teeth that were more effective for slicing meat than the teeth of placental cats. The molar teeth were small, but their posterior premolars were very large and could reach 2.24" long. The marsupial lion has been described as possibly the most specialized mammalian carnivore ever.


Bite


Research in 2005 revealed that the marsupial lion's bite was more powerful for its size than any known animal, living or extinct. The study compared 39 carnivorous animals, including the saber-tooth tiger, lions, wolves, jaguars, leopards, spotted hyena and Tasmanian devil. After compensating for body mass, the marsupial lion was judged the most powerful biter of all animals overall, delivering bites 3 times more powerful than placental lions twice their size. Interestingly, another marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil, was judged the most powerful biter of a living species. It is theorized the short skull and smaller brain size of marsupials may allow room for more powerful development of the jaws.


Paws


The paws of the marsupial lion were more suited to climbing, gripping and holding rather than walking or running. Similar to placental cats, the marsupial lion's weight was supported on the ends of the toes. Both the front and back paws had a strong grip due to the thumbs being opposable to the the wrist bone. The front thumbs also had a hooded, retractable claw that was far longer than the small claws on the rest of the digits and useful for slashing. It is thought to be an arboreal hunter in forests, but fossils have been found in areas that were plains when the animal was alive. It was able to slash prey with it's claws and grasp it using the thumbs. The hindfoot shows syndactyly similarly to many other possums, with the 2nd and 3rd digits fused with a sheath of skin.


Diet


"Overall, the picture of Marsupial 'Lion' biology indicated by these findings is of a muscle-bound, 'purpose-built' ambusher, wrestler and dispatcher of large prey. This beast probably didn't waste time taking out small fry." - Dr. Stephen Wroe

 

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Of about 60 mammals in Australia that have exceeded 22 pounds in weight, only 3 were carnivorous. The marsupial lion is one of those three. Since the marsupial lions did not have teeth modifications to assist bone cracking, it is thought they ate primarily flesh, internal organs and soft tissue. The marsupial lion could slash with their long claws, grasp prey with their semi-opposable thumb equipped with retractable claw, then stab or strangle it with the large incisors.


Since the 1850s there have been arguments about their primary diet, with suggestions ranging from carnivorous to scavenger to herbivorous. Research in 1982 indicated the tooth enamel was worn in patterns similar to carnivores, but not herbivores. They concluded the lower teeth would stab or pierce while the upper teeth held the food, then the large premolars would slice and shear it like a knife-cut.


The largest prey they could have brought down was the largest marsupial ever, the rhinoceros-sized "Diprotodon australis" wombat. Marsupial lion teeth marks have been found on their bones. Marsupial lion teeth-marks have been found on a variety of fossilized herbivores, especially on the rib bones. To quote Dr. Stephen Wroe, the marsupial lion may have used "its massive bolt-cutter-like cheek teeth to scissor through the windpipe or vital blood vessels of big animals. This would have hastened the demise of the prey, adding rapid major blood loss to asphyxiation."


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It has been described as an arboreal hunter and remains are often found in places that used to be forests. Due to its large size it probably couldn't prey on the quick-moving arboreal animals, but like jaguars it may have dragged its food into trees to eat—or it was too large to do that well. Suggested foods the marsupial lion may have eaten include mammals, birds, plants, fruit, kangaroos (including the extinct Sthenurus kangaroos), wombats, crocodile eggs and cycad pith.


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The following was reported by Peter Darben using the Fortean Times - On line reporting service


Seen in The Queensland Sunday Mail on 12/11/95


Is it a tiger? Is it a lion? Or just a plain old furphy?


Naturalists investigating reports of north Queensland's mysterious "nightgrowler" will settle the question by trapping the beast, if there is one, or tracking it to its lair.


Goldsborough Valley resident "Wharfie" Mark Camplon is the latest to tell of a brush with what he thinks is one of Queensland's fabled native tigers.


"I was sitting here on the back verandah, watching television," he said. "Rusty, my dog, was sitting on the bed next to me. Rusty's afraid of nothing, but all of a sudden he started shaking like mad.


"His hair was standing up along his back and he was staring out into the night, through the shade cloth. I looked out but I couldn't see a thing.


"Then it growled. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard, really deep and big sounding."


Similar reports of a large, feline-like creature which prowls remote areas at night have come from other residents in the picturesque valley south of Cairns.


A team of local naturalists and a ranger are determined to either capture one of the creatures, or prove the Goldsborough Growler is a myth.


Pat Shepherd, leader of the group, said : "The last time anyone was serious about this was back in the 1930's. Then they didn't have the knowledge or equipment we have, so on that basis we're off to a head start.


"We had some sophisticated traps and tracking methods so we can do what people in the past didn't dream of—track this creature back to its lair. It's there we'll get the scientific evidence to support or debunk any theory."


Mr. Camplon's story s echoed by several other residents of the area who have heard something in the night. They all agree it's not a dog or a canine sort of noise. They also all agree that it sounds "like a tiger".


The Queensland marsupial tiger was widely reported throughout the region in the early part of the century. There have been sporadic sightings until the 1970's.


Mr. Camplon said he heard "the growler" several times and the reaction of his dog has always been the same - it is clearly terrified. This is common with reports of the marsupial tiger.


Naturalists are divided on the "tiger's" existence. They say that if it does, then it is probably a descendant of Thylacoleo Carnifex (sic), a marsupial lion which lived in Queensland in prehistoric times.


They say the descriptions and paw prints alleged to be of the creature are not consistent with any known species.


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Mr. Camplon said people who thought he had been hitting the booze should go an spend some time in the valley.


"Once you are here, away from civilization and all the noise and lights, it's easy to believe that a creature could live for years away from the eyes of man," he said. "You could lose an army up here, let alone a family of cats or something similar. Especially if they were well adapted to the area.


"They'd come down near people only when the food got short."


[Contributor's note: while there is a lot of evidence to support the existence of this wee beastie (at least up until the 1950's), the above article is not helped by one of the illustrations. The caption to a sketch of the critter's track next to that of a dog reads "Paw wars . . . locals say the track print on the left was made by a "tiger". The other print was made by a dog". The same picture appeared on p103 of "Out of the Shadows" by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper (Ironbark, 1994) with the caption "Mr. Hull's sketch (left) compared to the track of a dog (right) twenty one inches [50cm] high at the shoulder" Reading the text reveals that Mr. Hull drew the sketches for an article published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, sometime around 1871.]


THE BEAST OF BUDERIM


If you look in any respectable book on native Australian animals published before the 1960's, it's very likely that you'd come across a listing for something called the Queensland Marsupial Lion or Tiger. No specimen was ever recovered from this critter, but the number of white settlers who reported such a beast convinced the folks in charge that something was roaming the bush in far north Queensland. The local aboriginal tribes had names for a particularly vicious animal which could climb trees—the Yarri—of which they were justly wary. The existence of such a creature was supported by fossil remains as young as 2,000 years old found in Southern Queensland of a largish tree-living marsupial predator aptly named Thylacoleo Carnifex.

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Most of the early reports of the Marsupial Lion centred around northern Queensland with its dense and sometimes inaccessible tropical rainforest. In the 1940's and 50's however, another flap of sightings of a striped tiger-like beast was reported further to south around Maryborough and Gympie, which lie just to the north of the Sunshine Coast.


The Queensland Marsupial Lion/Tiger/Cat is usually described as a heavy-set animal about the size of a large dog with stripes across its whole back. It has a feline head and a nasty temperament, often taking its temper out on dogs sent out at it.Numerous reports describe it leaping through the air and disembowelling dogs with a swipe of its claws. Many reports indicate that it is a marsupial, from a peculiar hopping gait, to great leaps, to an investigation of carcasses which revealed a pouch in the female. The most likely candidate for the identity of this animal is either a surviving population of Thylacoleo or a descendent of these creatures. Thylacoleo has been suggested as the culprit in some of the ABC reports, including the Grampions Puma in Victoria, although Healy and Cropper regard that the actual appearance of Thylacoleo was anything but feline :


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"Its hand-like paws, for instance, were designed for grasping tree limbs and would leave nothing like the cat tracks found at Emmaville and elsewhere. Thylacoleo's jaws housed massive tusk-like incisors which protruded from its jaws and gave the creature's face a very distinctive appearance. It is very doubtful any close observer would confuse a surviving Thylacoleo with a panther or any known big cat. The animal, in fact, may have looked more like a huge, murderous possum than a lion." Out of the Shadows, p.59.


If not a Thylacoleo maybe a surviving contemporary relative. It's rather unlikely that a creature might have speciated in less than 10,000 years. Another explanation may be involved with perception. If a carnivore has a long snout, one might describe it as dog-like (eg. Tasmanian Wolf was a common synonym for the thylacine). If it's shorter, we may describe it as feline (or possibly ursid). perceptually, humans are better at describing things by shoe-horning them Walcott-style into groups were are familiar with—we love to categorize things. Curiously, the Queensland Museum has a rather nice animatronic Thylacoleo lying on a rock at the entrance to its paleontology section (as well as a bloody big goanna a little further in) which is mainly devoted to the rich fossil find at Riversleigh Station. This specimen is quite feline in appearance, resembling a maneless lion (it slowly breathes and flicks its tufted tail every now and then, scaring the unwary). Its coat is deep red with paler spots—the pattern seen in our smaller dasyurid marsupials, like the Quolls and Tasmanian Devils (white on black).


Is the Beast of Buderim a thylacoleo-oid carnivorous marsupial? Quite possibly some of the later reports might indicate this. Whilst the earlier articles (particularly the ones around Buderim itself) feature doglike creatures, which opens the possibility to confusion with real dogs, some of the later stories are classical marsupial lion tales (feline appearance, leaping through the air, disembowelling, appalling temperament). The point has been raised by at least two of the witnesses and is the theory Toni McRae holds herself. I'd like to think that we haven't wiped out as many marsupials as we appear to have, but I'd like to see some more concrete evidence as well. Definitely there was something scaring farmers and aboriginals alike up the eastern seaboard up until at least the first part of this century.

NSW "Thylacine" Sightings Update

From CFZ Australia

Wednesday, 29 February 2012


There have been several recent sightings of an unusual 'dog-like' animal, seen in and around the region of northern NSW and north coast wildlife expert Gary Opit has been taking note, according to the Daily Examiner.


For the past 15 years, Mr Opit has been a regular guest speaker on ABC North Coast (formerly 2NR) and in that time he has received around 50 reports from callers describing an unfamiliar animal that he said resembles one of two species, possibly the marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex), or the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus).


While the last known Tasmanian Tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, Mr Opit said that the most recent fossil evidence of the marsupial lion, which lived on Australia's mainland, was dated at around 3000 years old.


Many of the recent sightings have occurred around Mullumbimby, Nimbin and Byron Bay.


But before you jump to any conclusions, Mr Opit has been gathering newspaper clippings and eyewitness reports from all over Australia since the early 1960s when, as a young man, he first became interested in unusual and unclassified native animals.


"I always wanted to be a zoologist, was always visiting Taronga zoo and the Australian Museum and, as a 19-year-old Sydney teenager, I bought my first zoological text book, Furred Animals of Australia by the Curator of Mammals at the Australian Museum, Ellis Troughton, our top zoologist," Mr Opit said.


"I was surprised to find between the studies and descriptions of the Tasmanian Devil and the Tasmanian Tiger, two pages dedicated to the Striped Marsupial-cat of North Queensland. Years earlier, in 1963, I had kept a clipping from one of the Sydney papers with a photograph of an unknown animal, described as the Ozenkadnook Tiger and taken by a Melbourne lady named Rilla Martin," he said.


Not long after, the young Gary Opit moved with his family to Surfers Paradise and it was here that he read and kept a letter to the editor to the Gold Coast Bulletin, published 22 September 1967, from Mr Carl Lentz, an early pioneer, who wrote in response to articles on a mystery animal observed by people on the edge of Southport living beside the State Forest.


He wrote: "Then a great strange head appeared out of the thick foliage. It was about to jump towards me so I quickly fired and it fell with a hard bump onto stones only two yards away. It was as big as an Alsatian dog. We tied its legs together with tough vines and stuck a long pole through them, by which we carried it home about half a mile. It was heavy. I intended to take it to Nerang 10 miles away by pack horse the next day and send it by train to the Brisbane Museum but owing to heavy rains all night causing the creek to flood we couldn't make the journey to Nerang so we measured it and skinned it instead."


"From the tip of the nose to the end of its long thick black tail it measured six feet, height of shoulder 25 inches, around the chest 23 inches. It was long in the body and strongly built on the forequarters, but more slightly built around the waist and hindquarters. It had two extra long sharp fang teeth, one and five eighth inches long besides the four ordinary incisor teeth. Its forehead and face was a light bronze colour. It had five bright orange rings of very short hair around its eyes. Its eyes were puce (purplish-brown) coloured. It had round ears of a pale fleshy colour, almost human ears. It had a short thick coat of light pale blue-grey and white stripes running downwards with bright, marble-sized orange to yellow spots along the flanks."


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"From the back of the head covering the body it had a dark thin coat of black hairs and this made it appear a brindled colour at a distance when seen standing up from the side. The light pale blue-grey and white stripes running downwards along the flanks shone through the long thin outer coat of black hairs and looked very pretty close up. Its tail was covered with long black hair, underneath that, white and blue-grey rings an inch wide. It was a magnificent, male, specimen."


After this, Mr Opit heard reports of a similar experience, which happened to Gilston's first pioneer, Mr. William Duncan who related that the blacks called the animal a 'Punchum'


A couple of years later in 1969, Mr Opit was fortunate to himself see this animal cross the road at night and drew a picture.


"I used to work with Australia's most famous zoologist David Fleay at his zoo at West Burleigh, he was famous for filming the only movie footage of the last Tasmanian tiger in Hobart in 1936 and the first to breed the platypus. A couple of times people described to him the same animal that I had seen and he wondered if it could be a mainland representative of the Tasmanian tiger."


In the early 1970s, Mr Opit began working as a park ranger for the QLD National Parks, and while at O'Reilly's in Lamington National Park, he recorded wildlife but never heard any more about the Punchum and he thought that whatever it was it was probably extinct.


Then, in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, Mr Opit received reports and drawings from people on Tamborine Mountain where he lived on and off for 25 years, but he had never seen it himself even though he explored most of the forests identifying plants and animals.


"It was only after moving to live on Jones Road between Wooyung and Yelgun that I finally observed again what is probably the same unknown carnivorous marsupial, the Punchum, though this individual is very dark brown," he said.


"I have found it two other times in the Billinudgel Nature Reserve and both times it moved off rapidly."


"I have never really gone too public about it before, except mentioning it on my Wildlife Wednesday broadcast two or three times over the last 15 years of broadcasting, when listeners described a similar animal that they had observed. Eventually I put all the reports that sounded most like a thylacine together for the ABC website. I still don't know what it is."


As an Environmental Scientist, Mr Opit has assisted Australian Government's in all areas of conservation and is highly regarded in the Australian Crypto world as an authority.


To view Mr Opit's log of eye-witness reports, visit www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2008/02/262172927 (Link is currently dead)


* Reports of unusual animals have been circulating in Australia since the early days of white settlement and while many of these animals have since been identified and classified, a small number remain unexplained.


Wildlife expert Gary Opit said many of the reports he has recorded over the years describe an animal of similar characteristics and have come from ordinary, reasonable people, leading him to believe that witnesses have described the same species and weren't experiencing hallucinations.


"While some people report seeing distinctive bands or stripes on the body and tail, and others don't, I believe what they are reporting is almost certainly the same animal species, mostly likely a thylacine or thylacoleo," Mr Opit said.


Now Mr Opit is hoping the widespread use of smartphones will eventually lead to some firm evidence; preferably a video.


"It's just a matter of time," he said, adding that the scientific community would probably continue to ignore these anecdotal reports until there is some form of hard evidence, either a live animal or a dead one.


So far, Gary says, he hasn't received any reports of the mystery animal from the Clarence Valley region but he expects they inhabit bushland areas throughout eastern NSW.

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