During summer 1970, dingo hunter Peter Muir found and photographed some strange two-toed tracks in the spinifex (a spiny-seed grass) desert area near Laverton, Western Australia. Local aboriginals claimed that they were from an ogre-like monster – the tjangara or spinifex man.
Scientists initially assumed that these were merely tracks of the common Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, but swiftly retracted this view – because emus leave three-toed versions. Only one known creature produces two-toed tracks like those at Laverton – Struthio camelus, the African ostrich!
Yet the concept of ostriches living wild in Australia is by no means ludicrous – far from it. Small populations of feral (run-wild) ostriches still persist north of Adelaide, South Australia, for instance, descended from specimens released by ostrich farmers after World War I, when the feather market collapsed.
As the ostrich is a desert-hardy bird that can travel great distances in short periods of time, in 1971 veteran American zoologist and cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson suggested in a short Pursuit article that some ex-farm specimens may not only have survived and bred but also have discreetly extended their range across the intervening desertlands into Western Australia, and thence to Laverton. (Incidentally, it is known that ostriches were released in Western Australia before 1912, but these 'officially' died out without establishing a population.)
This would offer a plausible explanation for the mystery of the two-toed tracks and their unseen originator(s) – aptly dubbed by Australian wags 'the abominable spinifex man'. Indeed, if the Laverton environs were not so sparsely populated, the existence of ostriches there may have been confirmed by now.
This ShukerNature article is excerpted from my book The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003).
First comment of 2023? I remember reading about this in your book. An important thing to consider is that to an inexperienced observer, an ostrich from a distance may be mistaken for an emu, so perhaps there have been many sightings that just aren't recorded.ReplyDelete
I sometimes have a difficult time keeping track of different ratites and how to tell them apart as well.Delete
Tjangara is another Australian cryptid I have never heard of until now, but I am familiar with the feral populations of ostriches in the country - I remember them frequently mentioned as examples of all the invasive species wreaking havoc on ecosystems. (along with cane toads, rabbits and the ilk)ReplyDelete
Note that on firm substrate emus sometimes leave apparently two-toed footprints, as the inner toe fails to leave an impression. See this paper:ReplyDelete
Thanks very much for posting this interesting reference. Of course, the spinifex area where the two-toed prints have been reported is desert, i.e. sandy, not firm, substrate, so one would expect emu tracks to show all three toes.Delete