Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sunday Herald Sun - "Ready to trap 'big cat' alive" By ADRIAN TAME - June 20, 2004

""ALAN Phillips believes he has found the lair of a big cat he has been hunting for six years. The Corio man is now convinced that one day soon he will trap the beast alive. Mr Phillips, 55, a freight rail repairman, first sighted the creature six years ago, when he fired on it, causing it to "stagger sideways," before disappearing into nearby rocks. Since then he has seen it three more times, most recently three weeks ago near Lara -- shortly after he discovered the creature's lair.

IMAGE - Closing in: Alan Phillips at the lair he found.
Picture: Faith Nulley

"It was in a rocky area and was strewn with bones, mainly sheep, rabbits and foxes," he said this week. "There was also the remains of a kelpie-sized dog with a rope and the clip off a dog chain still around its neck. You're not telling me a feral cat could have done that," he said.

"I reckon the dog went into the lair after the bones, and the big cat caught it there and killed it."

Mr Phillips said his best sighting of the cat was from only a few metres away, when it came out of a gully and stood looking at him for 30 to 40 seconds. On another occasion he saw it leap through the air for a distance of five metres before landing on rocks and scuttling away. From his four sightings Mr Phillips estimates the cat is 1.5m long, black with about eight white spots ringed by brown. The beast has a distinct "stringy" tail that stands straight up and appears to have been severed halfway along its length.

"I know it doesn't sound like a panther with the spots, but it's definitely not a feral cat -- much too big and powerful. Maybe it could be the offspring of a big feral cat and a panther," he said.

Late last month Mr Phillips took two wildlife experts, Michael Helman from Parks Victoria, and David Burrell from Leopold Wildlife Rescue to see the lair. The three men found droppings and paw prints about 10 centimetres across. Mr Helman said he felt the prints were too big for a feral cat. Mr Phillips no longer wants to shoot the cat, and is building a large trap to capture it alive.

"It knows me now, so it won't be easy. It's come up behind me once, and it could have jumped me if it had wanted, but it chose not to," Mr Phillips said. ""