Huge Australian feral cats - legitimate?

I was reading a science blog which looks somewhat legitimate - the guy certainly seems to know his stuff when it comes to dinosaur zoology. He reports that there’s some convincing evidence that feral cats in Australia are growing to huge sizes, some the size of leopards! He claims that there’s DNA evidence from carcasses, expert testimony from zoo and government officials and lots of sightings.

First, are these claims legitimate? Is there any evidence suggesting that Australian feral cats are growing to huge sizes? Second, why would this be so? Why only in Australia? Most places have feral cats, so why not elsewhere?

On isolated islands, animals tend to become dwarfs or giants. I don’t recall if isomorphism is the correct term…but too little time has passes for such extreme changes.

So, no.
Photoshop, not Atomic Mutation Rays. :smiley:

The only possible thing I can think of which would make any logical sense at all, is if local ferals were breeding with larger “wild” felids. Say escaped exotic pets - there has been at least one cross with a caracal and “Savanah Cats” are a similar, deliberate hybrid.

But it still wouldn’t be near leopard size and really it’s an extremely unlikely proposition in the wild. A larger wild felid is much, much more likely to eat a feral domestic cat than to mate with one.

  • Tamerlane

Actually the photo looks like forced perspective, with the cat placed in the foreground to appear bigger.

In other words, it looks a lot like my fishing photos.

Huge Australian feral cats - legitimate?

Yes. I’ve seen one. Once. For ten seconds. In 1985. :smiley:

Seriously, I’ve seen one of these things. My word is my cite - up to you to take it or not.

In 1985, at age 15, I was camping with my family at Hartley, near Lithgow. My stepfather and I had risen earlier than the others, to get the fire restarted, and make some tea and breakfast. This area wasn’t exactly wilderness - it was a private camping area near a road, with a toilet and shower block, and even a little kiosk. On the other side of the river was farmland. On the other hand, it wasn’t far to virgin forest either.

Sitting about eighty or so feet from the river (really only a stream ten feet wide), my stepfather and I simultaneously saw a very large, black cat appear in the farm opposite. It approached a barbed wire fence. This fence was about four feet high, and had about four strands of barbed wire. A normal cat would have simply walked under the bottom one, but this cat decided to go over. It half jumped, half climbed to the top of the fence post, and - this is where we got a bearing on its size - to climb down the other side (our side) of this four foot post, it had its hind paws on top of the fence post (leaving its rear end significantly higher still), and its front paws on the ground at the same time. Then it disappeared into the bush and was gone.

So what do I think I saw?

There are legends (which I didn’t hear about until just after I saw this, when my stepfather - a local in the area - told me) of big cats in the Lithgow area (as quoted in the OP’s link). There’s the “Lithgow Panther”, the “Tarana Tiger”, and “Those Bloody Big Cats”. There was apparently a large, exotic cat which escaped from a circus in the Tarana area, but it wasn’t that because a) I think that story is apocryphal anyway, and b) that supposedly happened in the 60s, twenty years earlier, and there would have been nothing for it to breed with to have descendants - it is unlikely to have lived to that age.

Also, it didn’t look like an exotic cat I’m familiar with. It looked like a domestic cat in everything except size. I’d estimate it to have been between four and a half and five feet long, jet black and sleek - but not exotic.

Feral cats in Australia, as an introduced species, tend to either do very well, or not survive. I’ve seen many scrawny little adult cats the size of kittens, mangy and dangerously malnourished. I’ve also seen big, healthy, plump bastards. I think, in the Lithgow area, there is a family of cats that has simply had the right genes to adapt well to the area, and over years or decades, has prospered. They may have been an unusually large house cat to start with, they may have been at the upper end of intelligence. But what I saw was no panther. It was black, it was big, but it had the shape of a domestic cat. My stepfather and I both got a good, clear view of it.

So nothing worthy of crackpot theories, but an interesting story anyway from a scientific viewpoint. These cats are definitely real.

Look, forced perspective makes it very easy for an animal in a photo to look larger than it is. No photoshop required.

When you have a photo of a black cat carcass hanging from a rope it’s very easy to simply move the cat’s body closer to the camera and not include any foreground objects in the picture. Instant giant cat.

One more thing. Cats can streeeetch a lot longer than you might expect. Take a look at a cat that really stretches itself out and it’s really long.

Hmmm…this post either proves the existence of giant cats in Australia, **or ** it supports the Aussies’ legendary love of Fosters. :dubious: :wink: :smiley: :stuck_out_tongue:

I make no claim in defence of that photo. it looks dodgy to me too, and different to what I saw.

While I agree about forced perspective, but scroll down to the last picture. There are everyday items in view that are either at the same plane as the cat or in front of it. No forced perspective there. Also look at the spread of the rear legs, and compare that to the width of the patio cover. Either that photo was photoshopped, it was taken at the Barbie Dream House or that is one freakin big puddy tat.

I disagree, Rick. What everyday items are in the same plane? The cooler is way behind. The table is hard to tell but could easily be several feet behind, you just have no way of knowing. As to the spread legs, the photo is trimmed so that you can’t see how long those strings are, but looking at the roof further back my guess is they are very long and the cat is hanging way below the roof. The photo is taken with a wide angle lens, so what’s in the foreground looks much bigger than it is. Assuming that it is an ordinary table, it is maybe 3-4 feet wide, and to me it looks like the spread of the legs is about 2/3 of that at most, which suggests ordinary cat.

Plus the author of that site says

The photo at the top of the page is (either accidentally or deliberately) a photo that could not have been better framed to force perspective, which makes me suspicious. So the photos released are dodgy, but there are “apparently” going to be some better photos later. Riiight. I’m not holding my breath.

Dude, Fosters is like Crocodile Dundee, the locals hate it, and it’s only us fools in the rest of the world who actually like it.

That being said, kangaroos released in Hawaii have shown evolutionary adaptions in a far shorter period of time than cats have been running about Down Under. Cats growing in size is a bit of a stretch though, since there has to be a reason for them to do so. Given that mice are a massive problem, I can’t see much advantage to house cats growing ever larger. Too big and the mice no longer make a tasty meal, but only a snack, if that.

Giant feral cat of eastern North America.

And what of the DNA evidence from the tail? Faked?

You often hear similar stories about large cats roaming the British countryside. Nearly always black, and in rural areas. They’re supposed to eat sheep.

I love the idea that there may be species living around us which are so stealthy that their existence is a myth.

Alternatively, if there’s some other phenomenem responsible for these sightings, it would be equally fascinating.

Thirty-Nine, it’s my understanding that the British Big Cats are no longer considered myth - several dung and hair samples have been found and two live specimens have been caught and others shot.

However, my question was concerned with feral domesticated cats reaching seemingly large sizes in the wild in Australia, not big cats released purposefully into the wild.

Apart from the fact that the one I saw was black (can’t change what I saw), there is nothing about it that is up there at Yeti / Loch Ness Monster levels. It was just a big cat. I found it interesting at the time, but it’s not something I’ve given lots of thought to since, and I am surprised to see a Straight Dope thread about it.

I really don’t want to be the “crazy old guy who saw them space aliens”, but this isn’t that dramatic. It was just a big feral cat.

DNA evidence? According to the linked article,, a guy from the “Centre for Fortean Zoology” [alarms should go off] he handled the “tail” and it was 26 inches long. But the news article doesn’t say what the DNA results were, it only includes a claim that hair samples were sent out for DNA testing.

It’s not that anything was 'faked", nothing needed to be faked. The reporter didn’t see any evidence. The entire story is simply assertions made by a couple of people and the reporter writing down the assertions and printing them. No faking neccesary.

Why are these cats always black? Black cats are easier to see in the daytime than regular tabbies. Why do these cats seem really big? Because modern humans are pretty poor judges of size and distance. And telephoto lenses play with your sense of perspective, even if the person who took the picture isn’t intentionally trying to create a false impression.

But all those photos of dead cats hung up ARE done to deliberately create a false impression. Notice how the supposed giant cat never touches any background object, notice how the place where the ropes attach isn’t included in the photo. There is absolutely no way to tell from the photo how close or how far the dead cat is from the camera. And the reason for that is obvious. Lie the dead cat on a kitchen table next to objects that reveal the scale and it’s easy to tell how big the cat is. Hang the cat in the air, don’t show where the hanging ropes attach, and it’s impossible.

The other photos at don’t seem to show giant cats, but rather regular black cats. There’s nothing I can see in those photos that gives any sense of scale, just cats next to plants. Since you can’t tell how tall the plants are, you can’t tell how big the cats are. And the one where you think you can is a trick. It seems the cat must be gigantic because it’s standing next to a road, photo number 2. But that’s not a road, it’s a path. Look at the scale of the sign. I suppose it could be a giant sign, but the point is that there are no reliable objects near the cat that can give the scale of the cat.

So again, there’s no photoshop involved, just simple tricks and tall tales. These people who shoot giant cats INVARIABLY lose the specimen some way or another and the only thing left is something ambiguous. All it takes is one dead giant cat in the freezer, and a call to the zoology department of the nearest university. But somehow that never seems to take place.

Meh. The feral cats aren’t going to be a long-term problem. First thing you know, the drop-bears’ll clear them out.

Actaully, feral cats are a huge problem in Australia. They’re a non-native invasive species and are routinely shot on sight. They aren’t such a big problem in North America or Europe because we had (and still have in many cases) plenty of species of small wild cats so the population of native animals isn’t naive to cat predation.

Steve Irwin had a few scenes in one episode of his show where he and Terry were catching feral cats in Australia. He also said they were very big, but when they caught them in nets and showed them up close, they didn’t seem any larger than normal cats - just very cranky and hissy.

Also as mentioned it’s true that many “normal” cats are actually longer than you might think… we have a 2/3 grown maine-coon type cat… only 11-12 lbs… and he can stand on his toes and reach my belt with his front paws. Then there are just plain old big cats; just like there are big people. Shaq isn’t the result of a band of feral black men living in the hills of LA feeding on visiting tourists, nor is he a human-bigfoot hybrid.