BIG CATS are highly unlikely to be roaming central Victoria, a state government report looking at reported sightings of the giant felines has found.
The study reviewed hundreds of claims of pumas and panthers living in regional Victoria and concluded there was not enough hard evidence to prove the existence of any living population.
The report showed the most obvious explanation for many of the reported sightings of big cats over the years was that they were large feral domestic cats.
But central Victorians who claim to have seen big cats say that is an unlikely explanation for what they’ve seen.
Tarnagulla Hotel owner John Laverey said a lot of different people had come into the pub over the years saying they’d seen large black cats in the region.
He said evidence from witnesses, and plaster casts of giant paw prints pointed to creatures far bigger than feral cats.
“I don’t think this study concludes anything,” he said. “It sounds like they’ve bailed out on it. And I don’t think there was any need for it in the first place.”
Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the study noted it was “difficult to explain” some reports by informed observers, such as farmers and hunters, of animals that did not conform to the appearance of feral domestic cats.
“Some preliminary DNA evidence also cannot be entirely dismissed, but it is not sufficiently conclusive to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of an animal,” Mr Walsh said.
Member for Bendigo west Maree Edwards labelled the study a “ludicrous experiment at taxpayers’ expense”.
“Clearly they got this one terribly wrong and after only a couple of weeks and basing their results on past evidence, they declare the hunt is over,” she said.
The report followed a 2010 election pledge from Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, who said “there were enough credible observations” to conduct the study.
Mr Walsh said the study by the Department of Primary Industries and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research was now complete, with no more research warranted.