Researchers into 'big cat' sightings in the Sydney basin and beyond are urging the Department of Primary Industries to put out a general warning about a possible breeding colony of pumas, leopards or jaguars in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains region.
Researcher and Grose Vale resident Chris Coffey, who keeps a database of sightings of the big cat, said there had been a spike in the number of reported sightings since widespread media coverage of the big cat and Premier Nathan Rees' pledge last year to look into the phenomenon.
"We have had well over 400 reported sightings of the big cat or panther, including one in Kurrajong only last week" Ms Coffey said. "I have been fielding constant calls from people. I was originally a sceptic but when I saw it 10 years ago it changed my mind. It was a very scary experience and there is no way I will go to the water pump on my property alone anymore."
Ms Coffey said the phenomenon was very serious due to the spread of suburban areas and the danger a big cat could pose to young children in the Hawkesbury and surrounding areas.
"What I want from the Department of Primary Industries is an official warning for people on the fringe of the bush, especially young children and the aged, to be vigilant at all times," Ms Coffey said.
"I also want to see a public education campaign on what to do and what not to do if you do come across the big cat."
Ms Coffey said she was frustrated by the number of people sceptical about the existence of the big cat, saying the issue had been "trivialised" on Sydney radio. "If people knew all the facts they might start listening," she said. "We're not stupid. We have had reports from everyone from solicitors to police officers and doctors. These people are not going to be lying. My greatest fear is that a child will come into contact with it.This big cat is a silent killer."
Blue Mountains resident and researcher Mike Williams said he had fears the big cats would come into contact with suburban populations in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains.
"Due to the expanding size of suburban areas, it's really only a matter of time," he said.
However, Mr Williams said he was not optimistic about the issue being taken seriously by the Department of Primary Industries. "I would like to be proven wrong, but I am not hopeful about it," he said. "It often seems like no-one will believe it until there is a body on the table... If it's big enough to scare the bejesus out of an adult male, then think about what it could do to a child."
Ms Coffey urged Hawkesbury residents to report all sightings of the big cat. "Residents can report sightings to Hawkes-bury City Council, the Department of Primary Industries, or myself between 7am and 5.30pm on 4572 1291 seven days a week," she said. "The most important thing is that we maintain the safety of the public, particularly with kids on holidays at the moment."
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