Ballarat University academic David Waldron is surprised rural Victoria is not overrun with exotic animals.
Dr Waldron, the author of two books on mythology, said our link with big cats roaming the bush goes back to the 1800`s.And those big cats were real.
"Circuses were losing animals, one entrepreneur wanted to bring leopards in to breed for their skin to make hats and there are documented accounts of a woman walking her pet cheetah down the main street of Ballarat on a regular basis," Dr Waldron said.
"Between the 1850s and 1870s the Acclimatisation Society was letting animals go, from ostriches and llamas to squirrels.
"There was absolutely no regulation on the animals brought in, or what happened to them.
"While many of the stories surrounding the big black cats are set in folklore, I have seen enough to know their existence is not implausible.
"There was a real puma shot in St Arnaud in 1924, it was a circus escapee, and Deakin University researcher John Henry's 2001 work tells of an adult puma and cubs coming to Nhill via several ports of call with the US 21st Bomber Group.
"While I personally don't buy the US theory, there is a kernel of possibility which, over time, has been wrapped in a convenient truth."
Author Rebecca Lang, who co-wrote the recently released Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, said in the early days of their research the stories and personal experiences they heard about were unnerving.
But she said when the strange predation reports started filtering in of animals cleanly killed and almost surgically stripped of flesh within a few hours "we knew something had to be out there."
"The witnesses themselves are quite compelling farmers, hunters, outdoors people but we've been even more impressed by the veterinarians, zoologists and ex-pat South Africans who have reported seeing black leopards in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia," Ms Lang said.
"They clearly know what they're talking about. This isn't just a case of mistaken identity."