If generations of eyewitness accounts are correct, the jungles of northern Queensland are the home of yet another, striped-bodied marsupial carnivore.
Sightings of these mystery animals have also been reported from other, widely scattered localities further south. Yet there is something different about this “Queensland Tiger” which sets it apart from its better-known striped Thylacine cousin - it climbs trees, from where it leaps upon passing prey!
Traditions of the former forest dwelling Aboriginal people of the Atherton mountain range inland from Cairns, preserve traditions of these carnivores dating back to the ‘Dreamtime’.
Early settler’s tales are many and in the Cairns-Atherton-Cooktown districts these date back to the mid-19th century.
One report concerned a police magistrate based at Cardwell, south of Tully, Mr Brinsley Sheridan, who together with his son was walking with their pet terrier along a track near the beach of Rockingham Bay, on the evening of August 2nd 1871.
The dog caught a scent among scrub and dashed off into the bush barking furiously. The son pursued his pet through the scrub for up to half a mile until, catching up with him, he found it had its quarry at bay in long grass.
“The animal was”, he said later, “as big as a dingo, with a cat-like face. It had a long tail, its body had black stripes with yellow fur”.
The terrier attacked but was soon forced back. The ‘tiger’ then dashed up a nearby leaning tree while the dog continued barking at it. The strange creature then dashed back down the tree, past the boy and the dog, escaping into nearby scrub.
Mr Sheridan later learnt of earlier incidents involving ‘tigers’ which had occurred in the Cardwell district. For instance, on December 4th 1871, Walter J Scott informed him that six men working near the Murray and Mackay Rivers north of Cardwell, where woken up one night in their tent by a “loud roar”.
Leaping from their tent, firearms in hand, they searched the area for the mysterious intruder but found nothing. However, the next day they discovered the tracks of some large animal about their campsite.
In the valley of Lagoons, west of Cardwell, on June 5th 1872, a native police officer, Robert Johnstone, in the company of several other police officers, spotted in dense scrub a large animal perched about 40ft [about 12.2m] above ground on a tree limb.
As the men approached it, the animal suddenly leapt from its perch about 10ft [about 3m] into another tree, clung to it, then slithered down the trunk tail first to escape. The men observed the creature to be larger than an average pointer dog, its body fur being of a fawn colouration with darker markings [ie stripes], and a long thick tail.
In 1896 an Atherton farmer, Mr Tom French, had been losing calves, sheep and goats to some mystery creature that raided his property day and night. Despite searches with cattle dogs he had been unsuccessful in finding the carnivore, which left telltale large paw prints in muddy patches around his property, which lay on the edge of dense scrub.
One day, from his kitchen window, he observed a strange animal, a little larger than a fully-grown German Shepherd Dog, with greyish-coloured fur and darker coloured body stripes, dash across the paddock barely 50ft [15.24m] from his window, to pounce upon a calf, grabbing it by the throat.
By the time Tom had grabbed his rifle and dashed outside, the animal was gone. Looking towards scrub in the direction from where the animal had first appeared, he saw the powerful beast dragging its ‘kill’ toward the trees.With his two teenage sons he was soon in the scrub in pursuit of the animal. Entering a clearing they saw the creature, perched on a gum tree limb some 20ft [6.1m] from the ground, where it had wedged the calf’s body between the trunk and the limb. Tom raised his rifle and the animal was brought down with a single shot. Tom later skinned the animal but the eventual fate of the hide is not known.
About 1904 another farmer, Adam Donaldson, is said to have found the rotting carcass of one of his sheep, wedged high above ground in the fork limbs of a tree on his property at Ravenshoe south of Cairns.
Similar stories continue to the present day. In 1991 a young trail bike rider, Don Moss, exploring a scrubland track west of Townsville, surprised a large, fawn-coloured animal with black body stripes, which leapt from a tree ahead of him at his approach, to bound off into scrub. As he reached the tree, Don saw a dead goat, wedged in the fork of a limb about 15ft [about 4.58m] above the ground where the creature had been feeding upon it.
The author has heard many similar reports from Queensland’s far north, but tales of the notorious “Queensland Tiger” or “Tiger Cat” are not confined to that region by any means. I have heard of sightings from widely scattered farming areas outside Mackay, Rockhampton, Gympie and Murgon as well as from scrubland locations west of the coastal mountain ranges.
The ‘tiger’ has been attacking stock, killing calves, sheep, goats and poultry in the Chinchilla, Taroom, Emerald, Charters Towers and many other areas for generations.
So what is this “Queensland Tiger Cat”?
Fur colour descriptions vary from grey, fawn to ochre, but all accounts describe darkish body stripes. It cannot be confused with the better-known Thylacine because of its frequent habit of wedging the bodies of its ‘kills’ high up in the forks of tree limbs, and most eyewitness reports describe its almost feline-like features.
There can be no doubt about its marsupial status. Until a living or deceased specimen can be produced for the perusal of scientists, its exact position in the marsupial family will remain unestablished; although my scientific colleague, the late Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, some years ago agreed with my theory, that the “Queensland Tiger Cat” may be a relative of the supposed long-extinct Marsupial Lion, Thylacoleo carnifex.