Partly eaten Eastern Grey Kangaroo

There was something big, strong and hungry stalking the bush at Toorour last night. This good-sized Eastern Grey Kangaroo was  dead (and whole) by the roadside late last night, according to local Ben Brook , but this morning its a different story.

During the night an obviously large, strong predator, with seriously powerful jaws and sharp teeth chewed through its thoracic  cavity, severed the spine below the shoulder girdle, ate the vital organs and carried away its head. The left forelimb is also missing. And this isn’t an isolated incident; Ben has found a number of large mammal carcasses (sheep, macropods) that show sign of feeding by a large, powerful carnivore. Many local farmers have a similar story.

Remaining right forelimb, empty thoracic cavity and severed spine (arrow)

So, what could possibly have done this? Fox, dog, cat, pig, eagle? Well, we can rule out nocturnal eagles, and foxes and feral dogs  are all very scarce around Ben’s farm. And they don’t typically feed like this. There are feral pigs in the Strathbogies, but none in these parts. So?

Upper body, with gut contents from a ruptured stomach/gut.

This find resembles a recent article in the Victorian Naturalist (June 2011, 128(3)), where a large Eastern Grey Kangaroo in the eastern Otway Ranges suffered almost exactly the same fate. In fact, the feeding damage to the prey was almost identical in both cases (see pic 6). Given the sheer number of people that have seen very large cat-like creatures, its tempting to think that perhaps a large cat did this job; not a panther necessarily, but a large cat. Feral cats weighing up to 6 and 7 kg are known and perhaps the odd one gets even bigger! And we know cats are very adaptable and promiscuous! So, if ‘ordinary’ feral cats can get to 6 kg, perhaps there are a few that get a lot bigger.

Severed spine (arrow) and missing ribs and shoulder girdle (tail to the right)

Another factor in all this is the constantly changing gene pool of feral cats, brought about by gene flow from the domestic cat population. Humans love cats and continue to develop new breeds. One large breed is the Ragdoll Cat that can reach 6.8 kg in weight. And Janet has ‘discovered’ another domestic cat, the Main Coon Cat, where the males can reach 11 kg in weight- Whoa!

Plenty of food, a dynamic gene pool, hybrid vigour and natural selection = big feral cats?!  There’s an interesting discussion of this HERE.