BIG cat researcher Simon Townsend is confident huge felines could still be roaming south-west Victoria.
“I have no reason to think there isn’t big cat activity still in south-east South Australia or along the south-west Victorian coastline,” the Geelong district resident said yesterday.
Although the last report on his Big Cats Victoria website was in 2009 when someone posted a message they had seen a large black cat with a long tail at Bessiebelle, he believes there are others still roaming.
Other sightings in the past decade have come from Princetown, Winchelsea and the Otways.
“I’ve travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres around western Victoria in the past to investigate reports and am continuing the research,” Mr Townsend said.
“My theory is we are dealing with a melanistic (black) leopard which always produced black offspring.
“There could be lots of stuff out there.
“These leopards would measure two feet wide at the shoulder, have a head like a footy, large eyes and weigh at least 80 kilograms.
“I’ve heard a number of reports of people being frightened by a large black cat peering through their window. Prior to the Second World War there were no restrictions of importation of foreign animals.”
The Standard’s renewed interest in the legend was sparked by a conversation with long-time Yambuk resident John Leddin, who recalled seeing one in the early 1960s in a back paddock on his farm.
“I recall it was a cold winter’s day when a large cat with a long tail jumped out from near the cypress trees,” he said. “It was like a puma, dark in colour.
“You’d reckon it was a tiger, it was that big.
“I can remember it running across the paddocks in big leaps.”
Mr Leddin said he mentioned it to a neighbour who immediately replied saying he too had seen a large cat in his hay shed.
Rob Whitehead, of Port Fairy, also recalled evidence of a large cat in 1991 while he was walking along the beach near Yambuk picking up driftwood.
“I saw fresh paw prints in the sand — the size of a lion or bigger,” he said.
“Beside it were small cub prints. It was a bit unnerving knowing there could be two sets of eyes watching me from the sand dunes.
“I have been told big cats could have travelled from the Grampians to the coast.”
Mr Townsend said it would not be unusual for the big cats to seek refuge in haystacks where they could be relatively undisturbed. His website is bigcatsvic.com.au