Look­ing for what’s out there

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Shane Ni­chols

WERE they thylacines merely op­ti­cal il­lu­sions?

JCU re­searcher Dr San­dra Abell has got a prob­lem – sci­en­tific rigour means she must keep an open mind yet be scep­ti­cal at the same time.

James Cook Univer­sity is up­scal­ing its sur­veil­lance of re­mote wilder­ness ar­eas in parts of Cape York fol­low­ing two re­mark­able ob­ser­va­tions of a dog-like crea­ture that came to light just a few months ago.

Though both of the re­ports – by cred­i­ble wit­nesses: one was a park ranger and the other a long-time bushy – date back 30 years ago they have since been fol­lowed in re­cent weeks by lots more sim­i­lar re­ports – to the point where JCU added this mys­tery crea­ture to its re­search ef­fort.

The univer­sity re­searchers al­ready have a lot of cam­eras out in re­mote places, hop­ing for rare an­i­mals to stum­ble into the field of vi­sion.

Such as the north­ern bet­tong, which is the main sub­ject of Dr San­dra Abell’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the wild.

Though she isn’t look­ing for thylacines in par­tic­u­lar, she has “an open mind” as to whether they are out there. Or some­thing like them. Or some­thing like some­thing else.

“I think it’s great that peo­ple or have the in­ter­est in our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, and I take their ob­ser­va­tions ab­so­lutely se­ri­ously.

“Th­ese two ob­ser­va­tions were ac­tu­ally very de­tailed,” Dr Abell said of the park ranger and the bushy.

“Of­ten ob­ser­va­tions are very fleet­ing, but th­ese men both gave de­tailed de­scrip­tions of ob­serv­ing an­i­mals for a long pe­riod of time, and what they saw couldn’t re­ally be ex­plained as an­other an­i­mal.

“I guess that’s where we got very ex­cited – th­ese were quite rep­utable and de­tailed sight­ings.”

At the same it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber th­ese are only ob­ser­va­tions. So we have to have an open mind and be scep­ti­cal at the same time.”

The rea­son a sci­en­tist may not dis­miss far fetched re­ports out of hand is that the wilder­ness is a very un­known place.

One thing sci­en­tists do be- lieve is that rare an­i­mals are so thinly dis­trib­uted and the bush so vast and un­vis­ited by man, that there are guar­an­teed to be an­i­mals run­ning around out there we have not seen be­fore.

“As a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist I study the north­ern bet­tong (an en­dan­gered mam­mal) and I know dif­fi­cult it is to find them, even though I know that they’re there,” Dr Abell told the

“Re­cently we dis­cov­ered a new pop­u­la­tion of them but it took a huge ef­fort – we had to put 100 cam­eras out to find just three of them.

“When an­i­mals are in very low den­sity it can be al­most im­pos­si­ble to find them. And when you’re talk­ing about preda­tors such as a large thy­lacine-like an­i­mal or a big cat, you’re talk­ing about ex­tremely low den­si­ties.

“It is a fan­tas­tic idea that they’re there, but at the same time ex­tremely low den­si­ties would ex­plain much. We barely know any­thing es­pe­cially in re­mote lo­ca­tions that are un­sur­veyed, like the Cape.

“The di­ver­sity in those re­mote ar­eas has not been ex­plored by sci­ence. “There’s things to dis­cover. “Peo­ple ask why do you bother to look for thylacines. Ac­tu­ally I’m, not look­ing for thylacines – I’m look­ing for what’s there.”

Dr San­dra Abell of JCU

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.