THE search for Victoria’s elusive big cats is back on.
Just weeks after it shelved plans to solve the decades-long mystery, the Victorian Government now wants to put the matter to rest once and for all.
Witness sightings have been recorded, over at least 60 years, of cougars, panthers or pumas in a wide stretch of Victoria from Gippsland to the Otways, the Grampians, central Victoria and at Beechworth in the northeast.
The reports include livestock maulings and unexplained paw prints.
As reported in The Weekly Times, an official investigation has been launched in line with a 2010 pre-election pledge from Nationals leader Peter Ryan, who said “there were enough credible observations” to warrant the effort.
Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said work on the big cat study had already started. Mr Walsh said wild-dog control remained the Government’s priority but there were now “sufficient departmental resources available”.
“The study will review existing literature, reports, correspondence and other evidence for the presence of big cats in Victoria, and it includes liaison with relevant community groups and individuals who have reports or records of possible sightings,” Mr Walsh said.
“The study is expected to take several months to complete.”
The investigation is known to include staff from the Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
Opposition agriculture spokesman John Lenders yesterday said the Government’s priorities to rural and regional Victorians were more important “than solving Deputy Premier Peter Ryan’s obsession with finding his big cat”.
“In an ideal world when the Government has not cut jobs to DPI offices across the state, underfunded fruitfly road blocks and the baiting of wild dogs, maybe funding for a ‘study’ into big cats would be welcomed,” Mr Lenders said.
“How can there be ‘sufficient’ departmental resources available to conduct a big-cat study when there have been significant jobs losses in both DPI and DSE as part of the Government’s move to sack 4200 public servants across the state.
“With cuts to TAFE programs, the scrapping of the Rural and Regional First Homeowners bonus this shows that the Baillieu Government is not taking rural and regional Victorians seriously.”
Melbourne-based big cats researcher Michael Moss said he had been telephoned by a DSE scientist wanting copies of his research and who asked him to keep the contact secret.
“There is no doubt they (big cats) are out there,” Mr Moss said, adding that the recent rediscovery of the Tiger Quoll in the Otways again proved how easy it was for animals to remain undetected in wilderness area for long periods of time.
Read more at The Weekly Times