Australia: traps set to catch ‘cougar’ on camera after scary encounter
It sounds like something straight out of a nightmare.
A spine-chilling scream echoing out over a rural landscape just as night falls and the full moon rises.
For big cat hunter Vaughan King, though, this could be the sound of a long-held dream come true.
Mr King and a crew of documentary film makers flew into Perth last week to hunt down what he believes could be a cougar roaming properties near Harvey.
In what he rates as one of the most promising big cat sightings made in WA, Mr King has been liaising with a farming family about an hour-and-a-half out of Perth who recorded the sounds of a suspected cougar call that “sounds like a girl screaming” last week.
An uncle who lives nearby had confirmed he too had heard the call on the same night as the family.
In fact, he claimed to have actually witnessed a big cat about a year earlier.
Having lost a number of chickens to what he thought initially was foxes, the uncle, described by Mr King as a salt-of-the-earth landowner, sat out one night to catch them in the act.
Instead, at about 2am, caught in torchlight across a creek line and through the scope of a .22 rifle, he spotted what he described as a tawny coloured mountain lion looking straight at him.
“After that he put himself to bed, he couldn’t sleep but he said he wasn’t hanging around outside any longer. He was quite shaken up,” Mr King said.
Australian Big Cat Research Group’s Vaughan King with drone pilot Sam Laurie.Picture: Robot Army Productions and Spectre UAV Concepts
Since the sighting, the uncle told Mr King he had heard the unusual calls numerous times.
Mr King has spliced together an audio file with examples of known cougar calls that the family have confirmed sound exactly like what they heard.
The recording made by the family has been kept under wraps until it can be used in the up-coming documentary.
Mr King has put out a call on Facebook for anyone who has heard similar vocalisations in the South West to get in touch.
“The recording sounds identical to the attached clip, and we are currently awaiting expert opinion from overseas regarding the vocalisation before we progress,” he wrote in an initial Facebook post.
“We have cross-checked the recording with known animals here in Australia (ie owls) and no native species match what was recorded.”
Louise, an environmental scientist who requested her real name not be published in order to protect the family’s privacy and the location of their property, said her husband first heard the noise while sitting out on the back verandah.
“The full moon was just coming up, it was just after six o’clock and my husband raced inside to get me with this strange look on his face and said come and have a listen to this weird noise,” she said.
The sound, which had started about 20m from the house gradually moved away across open paddocks towards bushland.
“It was such a loud crying, screaming sort of calling sound that I had never ever heard in the forest around our house before.”
She ran back into the house for her phone and managed to capture a few of the calls before the animal disappeared.
“By the time I ran outside, I just managed to capture a couple of these calling noises on my phone, very, very faint but very audible and you could make out that it was the same noise.”
They shone a torch on the area and saw a pair of eyes looking back at them but could not see what kind of animal they belonged to.
After discounting it as children playing around and ruling out native marsupials and birds, they wondered whether it could be a big cat.
As soon as they Googled the sounds of a cougar, they realised it was the same as what they had heard and reported it to Mr King’s Australian Big Cat Research Group.
The next day Louise said she searched the area for any signs of tracks and discovered what looked to be paw prints in sandy soil.
One of the prints discovered in the same area where the cougar-like calls were heard.Picture: Supplied
“When this incredible encounter came up we had to come here,” Mr King said.
“We don’t just follow every random sighting, that would just be ridiculous, but a lot of factors went into us saying ‘yes, we definitely need to go into this one’.
“They’d seen it previously, the professional background of the person seeing the animal weighs a lot and having an actual recording of the animal.
“As far as sightings go theirs was very definitive.”
Mr King is a key researcher for documentary The Hunt, currently being filmed about big cat sightings all over Australia and the people who investigate them and this latest South West sighting is to be be included in the documentary.
Louise said she was a sceptic by nature but was now convinced this was no myth.
“Now that I’ve heard this noise that sounds exactly like a cougar sound or a mountain lion sound I 100 per cent believe that it is in the forest close to our house, I believe it is out there,” she said.
Testing the drone equipment.Picture: Robot Army Productions and UAV Concepts.
Mr King inspected the property last week and deployed an arsenal of camera traps in the hopes of identifying the animal. He is also using thermal drone technology.
The cameras will be left in place and checked regularly until about October.
Mr King said he wanted to keep the exact location secret to protect the integrity of the site and encourage the cougar to make a return visit.
“We don’t want to make it publicly known exactly where they are ... because that will ruin the purity of the target area.
“You want your scent to be completely gone in the area and for the animals to start coming back in.”
The sighting is the latest in a long line in WA with multiple reports of big cats all over the South West, including a Jarrahdale jaguar, Toodyay panther, Kordering cougar and a Nannup Tiger.
“That whole area, from Jarrahdale down, we get sightings all the time along the scarp area,” Mr King said.
“The amount of people who have seen these animals, it is just incredible and not all of them can be one: telling porkie pies or lying, two: they can’t all be mistaken identity. There has to be some percentage of truth to it.”
“There’s been a lot of sheep taken down south over the years. Farmers just assume it is wild dogs.”
Mr King said the reason there was no credible vision recorded to date was because it was difficult to catch the shy beasts on camera.
“It is so hard to get these animals on film. A lot of people are like ‘why didn’t you grab your camera’ but we like to say next time you see a fox or a bird fly across the road how about you grab your camera and grab a picture for us. It is actually very difficult to get one.”
Anyone who has a big cat sighting to report can do so here.
Video can be accessed at source link below