More about the Bunyip, mysterious large black panther-like marsupials, by SunBôw
This last week, I have been talking with Uncle Andy, a knowledgeable Elder of the Dharug Original Custodians of these Blue Mountains and of Sydney area, the first contacted tribe by the British who wrongly called them Eora, which means ”our people” in their language. He knows the Yowies and the lore. When I mentioned my encounter with the Marsupial Lion, he confirmed (without me saying it) exactly what I had written in my last post : that they are the animals called Bunyip, they are often reported as black panthers, and they should remain in the legend, because some parties have been interested in trapping them. This had me search deeper into the topic and learn more.
There are four species of Thylacoleonids or Marsupial Lions known to paleontologists:
1- The squirrel-size (600 gr) Microleo;
2- The cat-size (2 kg) Priscileo;
3- The dog-size (30 kg) Wakaleo;
4- The panther-size (130 kg) Thylacoleo Carnifex.
According to the official theory, they came successively with the Microleo 24 million years ago, that evolved into bigger and bigger species, with the Thylacoleo the latest.
There are other known carnivorous marsupials, living species or from the fossil record. The Last declared extinct is the Tasmanian Thylacine, and the largest living one officially recognized is the Tasmanian Devil. Both are the closest relatives of the Thylacoleo Carnifex. Thylacoleo means ”pouched lion” and Thylacine means ”pouched dog”.
Photos of the last known Thylacines which died in captivity in Hobbard, in 1936 (also known as Tasmanian Tigers or Tasmanian Wolves)
Tasmanian Devil, officially the largest living carnivorous marsupial
The Thylacoleo or Marsupial Lion was previously known by a few skulls and bones, but the discovery of an entire skeleton in 2018 has brought better knowledge of its anatomy.
Link: New skeletal material sheds light on the palaeobiology of the Pleistocene marsupial carnivore, Thylacoleo carnifex
”New research into the first complete skeleton of a Marsupial ‘Lion’ which once roamed Australia provides extraordinary insights into the species hunting ability, social traits, and similarities with the iconic Tasmanian Devil… research confirms the lion was a skilled climber, whether it be moving through the canopy or through caves, despite weighing over 100 kilograms. It had a heavy, muscular tail that would have helped it balance and free up the forelimbs for prey capture and food manipulation… the marsupial lion was a stealth or ambush predator of larger prey, a niche not dissimilar to that of the Tasmanian Devil which feeds on smaller prey in comparison… the fact multiple adults and young were found in caves suggest they operated in social groups.
“Examining the whole skeleton reveals what a truly unique animal Thylacoleo was. It looked like a cross between a possum and a wombat, climbed a bit like a koala, and moved with the stiff-backed gait of a Tasmanian Devil, all whilst filling a niche different to any other animal on earth.” For millions of years, Thylacoleo carnifex was Australia’s largest and most ferocious mammalian predator, using its climbing ability to ambush prey until the megafauna disappeared around 40,000 years ago. “It has taken 160 years since discovery of skull and jaw fragments at Lake Colungulac in Victoria to finally complete the skeletal jigsaw of this enigmatic and controversial marsupial and reveal how nature structured a super carnivore from its ancient herbivorous ancestors.”
So this is what the scientists say about an animal they consider extinct. On the other hand, the ancestral knowledge of this land of the southern cross has described animals resembling closely to the Thylacoleonids. Petroglyphs discovered in 2008 in the region of the Kimberley in Western Australia portrays a striped animal that could indeed be that of a Thylacoleo. Many legends refer to a similar animal, most often called the Bunyip.
Descriptions of the Bunyip may vary widely, like versions of the legends, but some characteristics and traits are commonly referred to. Likewise, artistic representations of the Marsupial Lion or Thylacoleo differ in many details although inspired by the same data. Below is a collection of some reconstitution by artists. The first four look closer to what I observed first hand, yet they do not render exactly what it looks like.
So what does the Bunyip look like? It is hard to describe even after seeing one first hand at close range, as it moves fast in the dark night of the shady forest and swims underwater. This might explain the discrepancies in the descriptions, but there are major common traits. From wiki:
”The bunyip was part of traditional Aboriginal beliefs and stories throughout Australia, while its name varied according to tribal nomenclature. In his 2001 book, writer Robert Holden identified at least nine regional variations of the creature known as the bunyip across Aboriginal Australia. The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of the Aboriginal people of Victoria, in South-Eastern Australia. Europeans recorded various written accounts of bunyips in the early and mid-19th century, as they began to settle across the country… The bunyip has been described by natives as amphibious, nocturnal, and inhabiting lakes, rivers, and swamps.”
”The Challicum bunyip, an outline image of a bunyip carved by Aborigines into the bank of Fiery Creek, near Ararat, Victoria, was first recorded by The Australasian newspaper in 1851. According to the report, the bunyip had been speared after killing an Aboriginal man… The bunyips presumably seen by witnesses, according to their descriptions, most commonly fit one of two categories: 60% of sightings resemble seals or swimming dogs, and 20% of sightings are of long-necked creatures with small heads; the remaining descriptions are ambiguous beyond categorization. The seal-dog variety is most often described as being between 4 and 6 feet long with a shaggy black or brown coat. According to reports, these bunyips have round heads resembling a bulldog, prominent ears, no tail, and whiskers like a seal or otter…”
”During the early settlement of Australia by Europeans, the notion became commonly held that the bunyip was an unknown animal that awaited discovery… A large number of bunyip sightings occurred during the 1840s and 1850s, particularly in the southeastern colonies of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, as European settlers extended their reach…”
Artist representations of the Bunyip, from 1890 to modern days
So now, what about big black cats or panther-like animals reported in Australia?
Animals similar or compared to black panthers have been reported in this land since over a century. In the last 20 years alone, over 500 reports have been officially recorded only in New South Wales, with considerable numbers also in Victoria and Queensland.
A governmental report on wild felines in New South Wales obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that the government has studied the subject and concludes that the existence of free roaming felines is very likely possible, but the official explanation refers to feral cats, to avoid answering hard questions.
Sightings of alleged black panthers are common in the Blue Mountains and some have been addressed by the medias. A video was shared in 2018, but deemed inconclusive.
Many researchers have looked into this topic before and the most famous Australian cryptozoologist, Rex Gilroy aka Mr Yowie, also concludes that the reported black panthers are the Marsupial Lion or Thylacoleo.
”“The panther is actually a large marsupial cat,” said Rex, who has written a book titled, Big Cats of the Australian Wilderness. “I have pawprints which show them to be marsupial, rather than feline. Females have been seen carrying pouched young in the Blue Mountains and on a plateau with access to the Megalong Valley.
“They’ve got plenty of country out there to hide in and they live on native wildlife.”
There would be more to say about the Bunyip, Marsupial Lions and black panther-like animals roaming in the wild rainforests and steep mountains of Australia, but these are a few pieces put together to help connect the dots for those interested. The mystery remains and the legend lives one, in spite of the research, as Nature keeps some secrets.
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