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Thursday, January 14, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Australian "Pumas" and Big Moggies

I had a theory that the basic Australian 'Pumas' were mostly introduced golden cats from Indonesia, perhaps of an unusually large size. Golden cats are a poorly-understood group and there are cryptid candidate golden cats for both the African and South Asian cats, which are medium-sized puma-like cats. Heuvelmans thinks the Mngwa is an unusually coloured giant variety of the African golden cat and I might submit some photo ref. for that idea some time.

In this case, there is some genetic evidence for cats that were introduced into Australia from Indonesia at 6000 years ago approximately: one of my professors at IUPUI mentioned that he had done research that demonstrated that.

Golden cats may have been introduced at that time or later: they are sometimes kept for cultic purposes in South Asia historically and to this day. Golden cats are another variety that runs to melanism.

(Incidentally, I have heard some good definitive reports of jaguarundis running loose in both Illinois and Indiana, but that is also another matter for another time)

However, in the case of the Australian cats, something else is happening that is very unusual: some of the leopard-sized cats are being killed and then tested, and their DNA turns out to be ordinary house-cat-derived.

There are some monstrously big kitty cats running loose out there, comparable in size to a german shepherd dog, which is about two feet high at the shoulder and four feet long.
In the USA we have a breed of very large cat that is known as the Maine coon cat. The cat can be three or four feet long overall and weigh twenty or thirty pounds. That would be about the size of these BigMoogies.

It is thought that these Maine coon cats are related to the equally large and thick-furred Scandinavian skogskat, also known as the viking cat. I have done up a comparison for the big cat as compared to a more average one: actually the reports have them getting even bigger than I have shown, but showing the large size as big as reported makes it look too unreasonable.

And it also seems that rumour has it that Americans allowed pet or mascot pumas to run loose in Australia, allegedly both in the late 1800s and in WWII. I would not be surprised if that was also the reason for 'Panther' reports in New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii.


Retrieverman said...

It's well-known that Australian bush cats get quite large.

It is possible that one of the Catopuma species (the Bay cat and/or the Asian golden cat) has been introduced to Australia, although it may be a rare species.

The dingo population of Northern Australia has often been augmented through arrivals of Indonesian dogs. It's one reason why dingoes have always varied in appearance in the northern parts of Australia.

Could cats, including the catopuma species, have been introduced in a similar way? It is possible.

BTW, I should mention here that catopuma are not closely related the African golden cat. They just look similar.

Cats may have been in Australia for thousands of years. If the 6,000 year date is correct, then cats have been in Australia longer than dingoes, which were introduced 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

Cats have only been able to spread in Australia with the arrival of the European rabbit, which produces lots of small kits throughout the year and provides the cats with something to eat. Of course, as the cat has spread, it has been a major problem with native Australian wildlife. Red foxes have also been able to spread because of he European rabbit.

Retrieverman said...

British, Dutch, or Portuguese introduction of catopuma cannot be ignored either.

It is a controversial to say that the Portuguese discovered Australia in the sixteenth century, but it is still often posited. The Portuguese were the first European power to become a world power, and they did colonize parts of Indonesia (especially Timor-- East Timor is a former Portuguese colony). It is possible that they made it Australia.

All of these colonizers would have had access to the catopuma species, and it is likely that they kept them as pets or as possible scientific speciemens on ships. And when they landed on Australia, their pets escaped.

Retrieverman said...

BTW, jaguarundis are in the genus Puma. They are the closest relatives of the cougar, and both are probably the closest relative of the North American "cheetah." I think it is possible that the "onzas" that are often described in colonial texts are actually jaguarundis. They do look a bit like little cheetahs with somewhat shorter legs.

Cougars, Old World cheetahs, the extinct New World cheetahs, and jaguarundis are close relatives.