Catfight over sightings database by Rebecca Lang
The State Government has decided to take over the big cat database started by a group of concerned local residents, making it the first port of call for sightings made by members of the public.
But the move, panned as a ‘PR exercise’ in the lead-up to the State Election, has backfired badly after the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) reneged on a promise to issue public warnings about the cat.
Stakeholders were called to a meeting last week at Kurrajong’s Sassafras Creek Restaurant to discuss “the need to advise the public of the sightings of the ‘black cat’ in the area and what precautions should be taken”, according to a memo from the DPI’s Rob Williamson, acting manager of vertebrate pests.
Representatives from Windsor Police, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Rural Lands Protection Board and Hawkesbury City Council were all in attendance.
But at the meeting, DPI representatives expressed their desire to take over and control the database, which has been run by residents in tandem with Hawkesbury City Council for several years.
The database was started by Yarramundi’s Ken Pullen and Grose Vale’s Chris Coffey, and is currently maintained by East Kurrajong’s Karen Dolan, who interviews witnesses and records the sightings – which now number more than 260, at least four of them by DPI staff.
The trio – who have all seen the cat – agreed to the handover on the basis that a public warning would be issued this week alerting people living on Sydney’s fringe and regular users of national parks and reserves of the perceived ‘big cat’ threat.
But now they’re angry that the Department appears to have backed away from its promise after getting the database.
“If the DPI take over the database, it’s just going to go into a file,” Mrs Coffey said.
“They’ve done nothing with the database that they already have, which we gave them late last year.
"No one’s going to ring the DPI. People say ‘what’s the point? They’re not going to do anything’. And so far they haven’t.”
DPI spokeswoman Trudy Glasgow said while there had been discussions about warnings and signs in forested areas, nothing had been decided.
“It was really just an internal meeting to bring together people who are involved,” she said. “There’s ongoing discussion about whether there’s a need for signs.”
Council’s Chris Daley, the director of infrastructure services, first became enmeshed in the big cat saga eight years ago. He said at this stage Council was happy to relinquish control of the database.
“The cats been observed over a larger area than just the Hawkesbury, so it’s probably appropriate that a department that has representatives over a wider area handles enquiries,” he said.
“I would hope that they would continue to undertake the appropriate investigations of these reports.”
Big cat researcher Mike Williams said: “I’m not sure why they’re trying to acquire the database since they’ve already dismissed the sightings of 260 witnesses. They’ve also dismissed the opinions of scientists that the DPI hired who believe there is a breeding population of big cats in the Hawkesbury.”