A few not so brief notes on the Queensland Marsupial Lion, courtesy of Peter Darben.

(With a heartfelt tip 'o the hat to Healy and Cropper, "Out of the Shadows" 1994, Iron bark Publishing, Sydney)

If you look in any respectable book on native Australian animals published before the 1960's, it's very likely that you'd come across a listing for something called the Queensland Marsupial Lion or Tiger. No specimen was ever recovered from this critter, but the number of white settlers who reported such a beast convinced the folks in charge that something was roaming the bush in far north QLD. The local aboriginal tribes had names for a particularly vicious animal which could climb trees - the Yarri - of which they were justly wary. The existence of such a creature was supported by fossil remains as young as 10,000 years old found in Southern QLD of a largish tree-living marsupial predator aptly named _Thylacoleo carnifex_. Healy and Cropper quote Richard Owen as describing _Thylacoleo_ as " . . . one of the fellest and most destructive of predatory beasts."

Most of the early reports of the Marsupial Lion centred around northern QLD with its dense and sometimes inaccessible tropical rainforest. In the 1940's and 50's however, another flap of sightings of a striped tiger-like beast was reported further to south around Maryborough and Gympie, which lie just to the north of the Sunshine Coast.

The Queensland Marsupial Lion/Tiger/Cat is usually described as a heavy-set animal about the size of a large dog with stripes across its whole back. It has a feline head and a nasty temperament, often taking its temper out on dogs sent out at it.Numerous reports describe it leaping through the air and disembowelling dogs with a swipe of its claws. Many reports indicate that it is a marsupial, from a peculiar hopping gait, to great leaps, to an investigation of carcasses which revealed a pouch in the female. The most likely candidate for the identity of this animal is either a surviving population of _Thylacoleo_ or a descendent of these creatures. _Thylacoleo_ has been suggested as the culprit in some of the ABC reports, including the Grampions Puma in Victoria, although Healy and Cropper regard that the actual appearance of _Thylacoleo_ was anything but feline :

"Its hand-like paws, for instance, were designed for grasping tree limbs and would leave nothing like the cat tracks found at Emmaville and elsewhere. _Thylacoleo_'s jaws housed massive tusk-like incisors which protruded from its jaws and gave the creature's face a very distinctive appearance. It is very doubtful any close observer would confuse a surviving _Thylacoleo_ with a panther or any known big cat. The animal, in fact, may have looked more like a huge, murderous possum than a lion." "Out of the Shadows", p59
If not a _Thylacoleo_ maybe a surviving contemporary relative. It's rather unlikely that a creature might have speciated in less than 10,000 years. Another explanation may be involved with perception. If a carnivore has a long snout, one might describe it as dog-like (eg. Tasmanian Wolf was a common synonym for the thylacine). If it's shorter, we may describe it as feline (or possibly ursid). perceptually, humans are better at describing things by shoe-horning them Walcott style into groups were are familiar with - we love to categorise things. Curiously, the Queensland Museum has a rather nice animatronic _Thylacoleo_ lying on a rock at the entrance to its paleontology section (as well as a bloody big goanna a little further in) which is mainly devoted to the rich fossil find at Riversleigh Station. This specimen is quite feline in appearance, resembling a maneless lion (it slowly breathes and flicks its tufted tail every now and then, scaring the unwary). Its coat is deep red with paler spots - the pattern seen in our smaller dasyurid marsupials, like the Quolls and Tasmanian Devils (white on black).

Is the Beast of Buderim a thylacoleo-oid carnivorous marsupial ? Quite possibly some of the later reports might indicate this. Whilst the earlier articles (particularly the ones around Buderim itself) feature doglike creatures, which opens the possibility to confusion with real dogs, some of the later stories are classical marsupial lion tales (feline appearance, leaping through the air, disembowelling, appalling temperament). The point has been raised by at least two of the witnesses and is the theory Toni McRae holds herself. I'd like to think that we haven't wiped out as many marsupials as we appear to have done so, but I'd like to see some more concrete evidence as well. Definitely there was something scaring farmers and aboriginals alike up the eastern seaboard up until at least the first part of this century.

As a postscript - a personal note. Back in the fifties, two of my uncles and an aunt were wandering through some thick scrub in the D'Aguilar Ranges just northwest of Brisbane on a nighttime hunting trip (some of my relatives are Oz equivalents of hillbillies - they have their own language). Whilst they were wandering along, something shambled out of the bushes to one side and run away. As fine strapping young Australians, they did the natural thing and shot at it - it let out a cry and stumbled but kept on moving. It scared them quite a bit. My aunt describes it as as the same size as a 'roo but thickset, more like a panda. It stood up on its hind legs and moved with something between a hop and a run. Its fur was pale, almost white.

(credits - "Sightings fuel search for Tiger" Sunshine Coast Sunday 30/4/95
"Beast of Buderim", Sunday Mail 18/6/95
"Odd beast seen again", Sunday Mail 25/6/95
"Beast of Buderim on the prowl", Sunday Mail 2/7/95
"Doris captures Buderim beast", "The taming of the tiger" Sunday Mail 9/2/95)