REPORTS that a big cat may be wandering the district's scrubland have raised the interest of big cat hunters and sent the communities of Sea Lake and Nandaly into a frenzy of speculation.
One farmer has publicly confirmed his sighting, made on his property near Sea Lake. The Guardian has also received anonymous reports of sightings and strange livestock behaviour in other nearby areas.
Sea Lake farmer Nic Harrison was willing to go 'on the record' and tell the story of his "frightening" big cat experience which occured while he was spraying crops.
"I was spraying at the time on my first lap around the paddock, so I was concentrating on not hitting the fence and this huge cat just appeared," he recounted.
"It was actually hanging around the rabbit warren and then as soon as it saw the tractor it sort of slunk down to the ground and ran."
Mr Harrison claimed the cat disappeared into dense bushland adjacent to his property after he startled the animal.
He said he spotted the animal in broad daylight, about 2pm, at a distance of 20 to 30 metres.
While sightings of melanistic leopards — commonly known as panthers — are not unheard of in country Victoria, Mr Harrison believed what he saw may have been a spotted leopard.
He said there was no chance it could have been a regular feral cat, or fox.
"I've never seen one like it. It had spots like a leopard and it had a huge long tail. Its tail was as long as its body. I've never seen anything like it."
"As soon as I saw it I thought: 'This is too big not to say anything and not worry about.'"
Big cat investigator Simon Townsend, who runs the website Big Cats Victoria said Mr Harrison's sighting sounded like a "boomer", and it was made at "very close" range.
He said while he had not previouly received reports from the Sea Lake or Nandaly areas, "anything is possible".
Mr Townsend said there was a number of follow up investigations that could be made to help support the recent sighting in Sea Lake.
"I would be interested in the history of stock killing in the district and whether or not anyone has found grey kangaroos or possibly emus that have been clearly killed by a large predator. "
"Whether or not there had been sightings of animals crossing the road at night, which is possible and happens occasionally.
"We would want to investigate the site and the bushland reserve. The exact strategy we would use once we got there... would depend on the possibility of tracks, whether or not there are fresh kills in there we could possibly set up trail cameras on, there is a whole range of possibilities."
A report comissioned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh last year failed to verify the existence of a self-sustaining population of big cats in Victoria, stating "the available evidence is inadequate to establish that a wild population of big cats exists".
It also recommended that agreements be struck with genetic laboratories for testing purported big cat evidence and departmental officers be equipped to take swab samples from the carcasses of animals purportedly killed by big cats.
For more of this story, see Friday's Guardian (July 12).