A report examining alleged sightings and evidence of 'big cats' in Victoria is complete, concluding the existence of a living population is highly unlikely.
Agriculture and Food Security Minister Peter Walsh said the desktop study by the Department of Primary Industries and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research found there was a lack of hard evidence to substantiate that a population of wild 'big cats' exists in Victoria.
"No big cat has ever been detected in a formal wildlife survey, shot by a hunter or farmer or killed by a vehicle and no skeletal remains have ever been found. Nor have 'big cats' been identified in wildlife studies involving the analysis of thousands of mammalian faecal samples," Mr Walsh said.
"The study concluded the most obvious explanation for many of the reported sightings of 'big cats' over the years is that they were large feral domestic cats."
Mr Walsh said the study noted it was difficult to explain some reports by informed observers, such as farmers and hunters, of animals that did not conform to the appearance of feral domestic cats.
"Some preliminary DNA evidence also cannot be entirely dismissed but it is not sufficiently conclusive to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of an animal," Mr Walsh said.
"Wildlife surveys have increased dramatically since the 1960s and technology, such as heat-in-motion-triggered cameras, has recorded hundreds of images of feral domestic cats, wild dogs and foxes, yet there is still no hard evidence.
"Only primary evidence in the form of a carcass or skeleton, or DNA from reliable sources, can establish once and for all whether big cats exist in Victoria. Isolated cases involving only secondary or tertiary evidence are not enough.
"On the basis of the report's conclusions, further work focusing on obtaining primary evidence to conclusively rule out the existence of 'big cats' is not warranted," Mr Walsh said.
Mr Walsh said the desktop study was a pre-election commitment that was now met.
"There have been thousands of reports of 'big cats' in Victoria over the last one hundred years but until now there had never been a comprehensive and co-ordinated attempt by any Victorian Government agency to collate the information in order to make a fully informed assessment," Mr Walsh said.
The Assessment of Evidence for the Presence in Victoria of a Wild Population of 'Big Cats' can be found at www.dpi.vic.gov.au/bigcatstudy