Big cat myth rears its head

Benalla Ensign - - Front Page - By Si­mon Rup­pert

When Chesney Vale landowner David Nu­gent shone a light at his fence-line to scare off wal­la­bies he was met by two eyes start­ing back — eyes that could not be­long to a small mar­su­pial.

The le­gend of big cats roam­ing the Vic­to­rian out­back is not new, and David had head the story many times.

In the past he had taken such tales with a grain of salt, how­ever, a 15-sec­ond en­counter would make him a be­liever.

‘‘Wal­la­bies had been get­ting into my gar­den caus­ing all sorts of dam­age,’’ Mr Nu­gent said.

‘‘Last Tues­day I heard them get­ting in, so I went out­side to scare them off. It was dark, about 10.30 pm.

‘‘I’ve got a big spot­light, so I shone it at the fence-line. I still can’t be­lieve what I saw, two big eyes star­ing at me.

‘‘They were a real deep red, al­most pur­ple, and or­ange in colour. It was dif­fer­ent from any an­i­mal I’d seen be­fore. And the eyes were about five inches apart.’’

At that mo­ment Mr Nu­gent and the uniden­ti­fied crea­ture turned and ran.

Back in­side the house he could not be­lieve what he had just wit­nessed, and he had no de­sire to in­ves­ti­gate it fur­ther, not in the dark at least.

The next morn­ing he ven­tured out­side to have a look at the dam­age.

‘‘I went over and there was a foot­print. A Nu­gent said.

‘‘It was about four inches across with four dis­tinct pads. It was like any cat’s paw print, only much, much big­ger.

‘‘I’m pretty cer­tain it’s a big cat of some sort. Too big to be a do­mes­tic cat, way too big. And I’m sure it wasn’t a dog or a wal­laby.

‘‘I went over to DELWP and they said it’s def­i­nitely not a roo print, but they couldn’t tell me what it was.’’

The le­gend of the Be­nalla Big Cat has it roots in the tale of es­caped cir­cus an­i­mals many decades ago.

When The En­sign shared Mr Nu­gent’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Face­book it soon be­came ap­par­ent that he is by no means the only lo­cal who claims to have seen it. big foot­print,’’ Mr

Al­li­son Smith said her fam­ily have been farm­ing in Strath­bo­gie for gen­er­a­tions and had seen the big cat ‘‘many times’’.

‘‘They come in dif­fer­ent colours, black, gin­ger, and whitish,’’ she wrote on Face­book.

‘‘My young son used to ride his mo­tor­bike up in the moun­tains by him­self. He came tear­ing back one day shak­ing be­cause ‘there’s a Big Gin­ger Cat up there and it’s big­ger than my bike’. He didn’t go by him­self for quite a while.’’

Cather­ine Warnock com­mented that she had seen a big cat leap across the road in front of her car in War­ren­bayne.

Andy Thomas said any­one who fre­quented lo­cal bush­land had ei­ther seen one, or knew some­one who had.

There were more prag­matic re­sponses with one per­son post­ing a mo­tion cam­era shot of a large Wom­bat.

There seems to be strong feel­ing on both sides of whether this crea­ture ex­ists or not.

How­ever, un­less pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence ex­ists it is likely to re­main no more than a good yarn.

Since post­ing the sight­ing to Face­book The En­sign has been ap­proached by a wildlife ecol­o­gist who owns 30 mo­tion-con­trolled re­mote-sens­ing cam­eras.

He has of­fered to set them up on Mr Nu­gent’s prop­erty, with per­mis­sion.

We will make that con­nec­tion and if Mr Nu­gent is happy to do that we will re­port back with our find­ings.

Big print: Although slightly dif­fi­cult to make out, a large paw print is vis­i­ble. This photo was taken in the ex­act spot Mr Nu­gent saw the ‘‘cat’’ the pre­vi­ous night.

Mys­tery: Is it pos­si­ble a big cat is re­ally lurk­ing in bush­land sur­round­ing Be­nalla?

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