SCIENTISTS will scrutinise mysterious paw prints, evidence of livestock maulings and reported "big cat" sightings to verify the credibility of a Victorian urban myth.
Puma and black panther sightings have been discussed for many years across country Victoria, especially in the Grampians and Otways, but nothing conclusive has emerged about their existence.
Rather than scouring the Grampians for Victoria's version of the Sasquatch legend, the reports and evidence will be reviewed from the safety of state government offices.
Department of Primary Industries and Department of Sustainability and Environment officers will spend months reviewing sightings and photos submitted over the years to determine whether the fearsome beasts are at large.
A 2001 Deakin University study concluded pumas were free ranging in the Grampians and that a big cat population in the mountain range was "beyond reasonable doubt."
Sightings have continued over the years, with a Warrnambool couple telling The Standard in 2007 they had spotted a black puma climbing up the roadside embankment while driving home from Halls Gap.
Claiming there were "enough credible observations" to justify a report, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan pledged before the 2010 election a coalition government would investigate big cat sightings.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the new project would analyse the stack of evidence submitted over the years.
"We're not going out in pith hats beating the bushes," Mr Walsh said.
"This is about actually doing the analytical work on all the information that's there."
Asked if the government would investigate other urban legends, Mr Walsh said the big cat issue was more serious than many people realised.
"This is something that some people have raised very seriously, particularly people who've had livestock killed, and believe that it was not dogs but something like a big cat.
"We never gave any commitments about fairies at the bottom of the garden or UFOs or anything else."
Mr Walsh did not state how much the exercise could cost taxpayers or how many staff would be involved, but said it would not take extra cash from the state's kitty and was being funded "within existing resources".
Labor spokesperson for Rural and Regional Development John Lenders yesterday said the decision to reinstate funding for a "big cat" hunt in rural Victoria was a slap in the face to regional and rural communities.
"Surely the Baillieu Government's priorities to rural and regional Victorians are more important than solving Deputy Premier and Leader of the National Party, Peter Ryan's obsession with finding his big cat," Mr Lenders said.
"The only 'big cat' hiding away from scrutiny that will be found in this search will be the Premier."