Anyone with half a brain may recognize that this title is a bit of an oxymoron – there are no tigers in Queensland, save for the ones at the Australia Zoo.
But what if there once was?
For many years, a large marsupial cat has been known to the inhabitants of Queensland, as yaari to the aboriginals, and later as a farming nuisance, and today as brief glimpses of a large, out-of-place mammal in Queensland.
The first dated account of a large predatory feline-like mammal in Queensland is in 1889, when naturalist and explorer Carl Lumholtz described an animal known as a Yarri, as told to him by natives, in his book Among Cannibals. I want to note that the following selection is taken directly from his book, and does include very racist descriptions of Aboriginals, which is absolutely not okay, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to censor it.
“During my association with these savages I learned that on the summit of the Coast Mountains, before mentioned, there lived two varieties of mammals which seemed to me to be unknown to science; but I had much difficulty in acquiring this knowledge. One of the animals they called yarri. From their description I conceived it to be a marsupial tiger. It was said to be about the size of a dingo, though its legs were shorter and its tail long, and it was described by the blacks as being very savage. If pursued it climbed up the trees, where the natives did not dare follow it, and by gestures they explained to me how at such times it would growl and bite their hands. Rocky retreats were its most favourite habitat, and its principal food was said to be a little brown variety of wallaby common in Northern Queensland scrubs. Its flesh was not particularly appreciated by the blacks, and if they accidentally killed a yarri they gave it to their old women. In Western Queensland I heard much about an animal which seemed to me to be identical with the yarri here described, and a specimen was once nearly shot by an officer of the black police in the regions I was now visiting.”
Interestingly, the other of the “two varieties of mammals yet unknown to science” is today known as Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo. Despite his blatantly racist views, he is generally agreed as an important early source for Australian wildlife, for what it’s worth.
Lumholtz was not the only early explorer to mention the existence of a large feline-like animal in Queensland. In 1871, even before Lumholtz, the naturalist Phillip Sclater brought an account of an attack on the son of the Cardwell police magistrate Brinsley G. Sheridan to the attention of the Zoological Society of London. This sighting has been viewed with some discrepancy, as not only was the son thirteen at the time, but the letter containing information about the son’s attack was written by Sheridan, not his son.
“It was lying camped in the long grass and was as big as a native Dog ; its face was round like that of a Cat, it had a long tail, and its body was striped from the ribs under the belly with yellow and black.”
However, the description seems to mirror some of the same characteristics of Lumholtz’s writings. Both described it as the size of a native dog/dingo. In the wake of the attack, the animal ran up a tree, similar to how Lumholtz’s animal was known to retreat to trees.
In 1782, after this matter was discussed at the Zoological Society of London, a letter was received at the society by Mr. Walter T. Scott from Cardswell, Queensland, dated December 4th 1871, concerning the queensland tiger. He says he believes there to be a “large carnivorous animal as yet undescribed in this neighborhood.” Continuing on, he discusses an attack on one Mr. Hull, a surveyor who was working with four other men in between the Murray and Mackey rivers. Mr. Hull drew a sketch of the footprints (viewable in the second to last page of the second source), which was published by the Zoological Society later the same year. He also mentions that a bullock driver came in as early as 1864 with reports of such a creature, but also adds that the person who made such reports was a “notorious liar”.
Also in 1872, Robert Arthur Johnstone, an officer in the native police force that operated in Queensland, came across a large animal in a tree near Cardwell. The animal was described as being fawn colored with darker markings, and distinctly, had no visible ears.
Sightings continued as Queensland was colonized, and there are even reports of the animal being killed. Several farmers described a large feline-like animal who took their animals. The descriptions were all very similar – dog sized, cat shaped, with stripes, though the colors varied.
In 1920, the Queensland tiger underwent its news debut with a page in the Brisbane Courier. Two men, G. de Tournoeur and P. B. Scougall claimed to have seen the animal near Munna Creek.
“We dismounted and were startled to find the cause to be a large animal of the cat tribe, standing about twenty yards away, astride of a very dead calf, glaring defiance at us, and emitting what I can ony describe as a growling whine. As far as the gathering darkness and torrential rain allowed us to judge he was nearly the size of a mastiff, of a dirty fawn colour, with a whitish belly, and broad blackish tiger stripes. The head was round, with rather prominent lynx-like ears, but unlike that feline there were a tail reaching to the ground and large pads. We threw a couple of stones at him, which only made him crouch low, with ears laid flat, and emit a raspy snarl, vividly reminiscent of the African leopard’s nocturnal ‘wood-sawing’ cry. Beating an angry tattoo on the grass with his tail, he looked so ugly and ready for a spring that we felt a bit ‘windy ‘; but on our making a rush and cracking our stockwhips he bounded away to the bend of the creek, where he turned back and growled at us.”
It’s easy to see the similar descriptions, although this one does note that the creature has lynx-like ears, in contrast to Johnstone’s no-eared sighting. Throughout the early twentieth centuries, this animal continued to make a nuisance of itself to Queensland farmers, with assorted reports of cat-like footprints, as well as some unsubstantiated reports of cats being shot and killed in 1896, 1926 (there was an additional unsubstantiated report of one being killed by dogs in the same year), and 1932. It should be noted I have not been able to corroborate the source or veracity of these sightings, however they have been mentioned in several different forums that I saw.
Into the later half of the twentieth century, sightings seemed to dwindle, but they still existed. In Spring 1940, Nigel and Charlie Tutt were hiking on Mount Stanley when they saw a large feline sunning itself on a stump. It is reddish, with dark brown stripes over it’s body and legs. In 1954, a man named Gamer saw a large grey cat with dark orange stripes and large fangs near Bidwell, Queensland. In 1967, Carl Lentz shot a feline-like animal the size of a dog. While he planned to keep the carcass, heavy flooding meant he had to leave it. In 1968, a large animal was sited near Mount Bartle Frere described with a nose shorter and broader than a dog.
Interestingly, this creature has been photographed. In 1964, Rilla Martin took a picture of a creature the size of a labrador, while driving near Ozenkadnook. While the photo has drawn heavy criticism, the brother of Rilla Martin, John Martin, believes it to be totally accurate, and has said so in numerous interviews.
One of the more descriptive ones come from Gary Opit, but it should be noted that he is a “known cryptozoologist” which obviously casts some doubt on this sighting, which he saw while driving down Brisbane’s Gold Coast highway in 1969.
“It emerged about 30 metres in front of the car on my side of the road (the left hand or eastern side) and I saw its head, shaped something like a mastiff dog, protrude from the vegetation and watched it walk across the grassy road verge and onto the bitumen. I applied the brake not wanting to hit what at first I thought must be a dog. Then I accelerated up to it when I realised that it was not a dog. It stood approximately 60 cm at the shoulders, had a body length of about 75-cm and a tail of the same length. The snout protruded from a round head with small pricked ears. It had a powerfully built body covered in brindled somewhat thick fur with indistinct stripes appearing beneath the thinner black outer coat
The fore and hind legs were about the same size, the rump and hind legs appeared reasonably powerful and what was distinctly noticeable was a marsupial-like waddling gait that particularly caught my attention. It reminded me of the gait of a brush-tailed possum only this animal was very much larger. Its robust form, muscled legs and large feet indicated to me that it was adapted to terrestrial locomotion with a strong tree climbing ability.
It had a long straight thickly furred tail with 6 bands or stripes across it and the tail did not wag from side to side as it walked across the road. When my car closely approached the strange animal it raised all the hairs on the tail, as a dog may raise its hackles when disturbed, as if it was attempting to make itself look larger. This very distinctive banded tail was the last I saw of the animal as it disappeared into thick vegetation on the western side of the road. At no time did it look at my closely approaching vehicle or increase its speed as it crossed the road.”
Despite the obvious possibility that he could be faking, due to his occupation as a cryptozoologist, the details do seem to match closely with earlier sites – dog size, thick tail, bands of stripes, and tree-climbing ability.
There were a handful of sightings in the 1980’s, including a leopard-like creature in Perth, a black striped panther-like creature in Mareeba, Queensland, and one in Daintree. In 1985, Gary Opit, of the earlier sighting, received a report of an encounter in the Billinudgel Nature Reserve about a “black panther-like animal crossed the track right in front of his car.” The person went on to say that the creature looked like a marsupial lion which he had read about in a book on Australia prehistoric fauna, but this sighting is of course, secondhand through a cryptozoologist.
In 1987, Greg Calvert saw a set of large footprints near Hughenden, Queensland, and indicated that they showed the distinctive grooming claws of a marsupial. In the 1990’s, several sightings were made of large animals with stripes across Queensland, including an alleged dead tiger found in 1995 beside the Bruce Highway. The remains were too decomposed for conclusive identification, though it had some of the characteristic features of the Queensland tiger, being described as the size of a dog, with distinctive stripes, a cat like face, and small ears. No testing has ever been done of this corpse.
Into the 2000’s, stories abound of a feline-like critter, posted about on forums dedicated to finding what it is, and even reaching the local news sources. Farmers in the area still report animals going missing and tracks from a large predator. Many of the more recent sightings involve a creature sprinting across the road in front of a car, or unidentified roadkill. In 2017, a team was launched from James Cook University to conduct a field survey in Queensland looking for the tiger, amongst other things.
So, just what is the Queensland Tiger? The descriptions are fairly consistent – a dog-sized animal, around four to five feet with a thick, long tail, with thick muscles, and a round, cat-like head and ears. Typically, it is described as having black stripes, with faun, tan, or grey fur, though dark brown/black coloring has been reported. It’s native to Queensland, usually seen among rocky areas, with trees.
Lies and Hoaxes
The earliest recorded sighting occurred in 1871, by a thirteen year old boy – a demographic not exactly known for their honesty. Throughout the description, many sightings have been made by people who could be described as untrustworthy, and many of the earlier sightings are all second or thirdhand.
I’ve also had severe difficulty trying to pin down firsthand sources of accounts. Many blogs seem to source many of the accounts I’ve described here from a 2002 publication entitled Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, however I have been able to independently verify some of the earlier sightings. I don’t have access to this book, so I cannot check what sources they’ve used.
My strongest problem with this theory is that some of the sources I can verify, namely the Zoological Society of London, as well as the Lumholtz account, seem to have arisen independently from one another. While Lumholtz could have known about the letters to the society, he specifically says that these animals are not known to science, which makes me believe that he was unaware of them.
Additionally, there is a cave painting said to depict one such animal, which indicates that the Yaawi was known to the natives before European arrival. The painting has not been conclusively dated, but it does suggest that there was once the existence of such an animal. However, the Thyclacine once lived in Australia, but died out before European contact, and so should this painting be sufficiently old, it could be depicting that.
Australia is home to a number of crazy animals, and there are a few candidates for the Queensland Tiger.
Firstly, Tiger Quolls (also called tiger-cat, or even yaari) have been suggested for their ability to climb through trees with ease, but the physical description does not seem to match with any of the sightings of the Queensland tiger, at all.
Secondly, it has been suggested by some that the Queensland tiger may be another cat. There were reports of American soldiers releasing pumas into Australia during WW2, but this comes well after many of the sightings, and it’s not proven. Additionally, Australia doesn’t have any wild cats of a similar size.
The Thylacine, famous for attempts to claim it is still alive in Tasmania, once existed in mainland Australia, though it is thought to have died out before European contact, however, that is still relatively recent in geologic times, and most estimates place the last Thylacine in mainland Australia around 2000 years ago. While not particularly recent, it’s not impossible that a small community of them could have existed until now in the Queensland wilderness.
The Thylacine shares some characteristics with the Queensland tiger – it is of appropriate size, with similar stripes, and a somewhat similar build, including the thick tail. However, it’s face does not resemble what is described by most sightings, and it is not one to climb trees.
For what it’s worth, Ellis Troughton, an Australian zoologist who for all intents and purposes seems reputable, believed that the Queensland tiger was a mainland variant of the Thylacine.
The Thylacine is not Australia’s only marsupial predator. Isolated from the majority of the world in ecological purposes, the continent developed very distinct animals, including the over-abundance of marsupials.
One such animal was the Thylacoleo, an extinct genus of predatory marsupials that went extinct around 40 thousand years ago, though some scholars have reported finding fossils dating to around 16 thousand years ago, but these are unconfirmed. While it’s name (Marsupial Lion) may imply relation to those of Simba fame, these “lions” are not closely related, and are simply named such because they share a similar size, and occupy the same niche as a large predator. Fossils have been found around Australia, including in Queensland, and they seem to match closely with this creature.
The Marsupial Lion was a stocky creature, with a round, catlike head, with pseudo-opposable thumbs on their paws, suggesting they spent a lot of time in the trees. Many of the cave paintings thought to be of the Marsupial Lion (humans arrived in Australia around 48 thousand years ago, so there was some overlap) are thought to show a striped coat, but there is no definitive proof of it. They had thick fangs, similar to the descriptions of long teeth on the Queensland Tiger.
However convincing this may seem, it is important to note it is unconfirmed. There’s no evidence of a Marsupial Lion still existing in recent years, and none of these sightings have been confirmed. Even if they managed to survive to European contact, they may have died out with colonization, and went the way of their Thylacine cousins.
So, what is the Queensland Tiger, “the unknown animal closest to official recognition.” A hoax? A relic memory passed down by the indigenous people? Misidentification of other wildlife or another mystery big cat? A Thylacine?
Or a relic of Australia’s past, a megafauna that’s managed to survive on tree lemurs, something that’s watched humans arrive on boats, and now watches them drive by in cars.
Where possible, I tried to find the original source for encounters. When not possible, I cited what I deemed to be the most reputable, and omitted certain sightings listed on various blogs and the like that I didn’t find as reputable.
https://www.athertontablelandnetguide.com/history/lumholtz/chapter8.htm (This is Lumholtz’s Among Cannibals – the selection from where I pulled this quote is entitled Two New Mammals, but I will caution that I have selected the pieces necessary, and that much of the other writings in here are incredibly racist, and should not be taken as a representation of Aboriginal culture.)
https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/BB176E90E5F1292421A329A982A2BD61/S0030605300037649a.pdf/div-class-title-the-supposed-tiger-cat-of-queensland-div.pdf (This contains information about the discussions at the Zoological Society of London about the cat, including Sheridan’s attack, and the Brisbane Courier attack.)
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/the-ozenkadnook-tiger-photo-revealed-as-a-hoax/ (Rilla Martin Photograph explanation. It’s interesting to note that if this explanation is true, it doesn’t explain the sightings the pranksters were inspired by.)
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.livescience.com/amp/3573-cave-painting-depicts-extinct-marsupial-lion.html (Cave painting information and pictures.)
https://australian.museum/learn/australia-over-time/extinct-animals/the-thylacine/ (Thylacine facts)
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thylacoleo (Marsupial Lion facts)
https://cryptidz.fandom.com/wiki/Queensland_Tiger (Contains information about possible identification.)
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queensland_tiger (Contains information about possible identification.)
https://cryptidarchives.fandom.com/wiki/Queensland_tiger#cite_note-Gilroy-12 (Contains a list of known sightings of the Queensland tiger, with possible identification.)
https://www.alpfmedical.info/freshwater-monster/queensland-tiger.html (Contains more information on known sightings, discusses Marsupial Lion)
https://recentlyextinctspecies.com/13-articles/65-queensland-thylacine-reports (Contains a list of known sightings of the Queensland tiger, and also provides primary sources for many.)
https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.themercury.com.au/news/national/new-hunt-for-tasmanian-tigers-after-reported-sightings-in-queensland/news-story/675d325c9eaa86fbba6757a323a0f73e (Discusses more modern information about the search for the Queensland tiger, published 2017.)
https://prehistoric-fauna.com/Queensland-tiger (Marsupial Lion facts and discussion.)
http://www.unknownexplorers.com/queenslandtiger.php (Contains a list of known sightings, especially those concerning indigenous knowledge of such a creature.)
http://messybeast.com/genetics/anomalous-bigcats.html (Overview of animal, worth a read for the total slamming of the “Australian anti-cat lobby” when discussing abnormally sized cats as a potential cause for the sightings.)
Queensland Tiger Sighting – News Report