AS a journalist in Inverness, former Highland News reporter Tony Black did his fair share of Nessie stories.
When he moved to Australia, he found himself writing about another mysterious creature, the inspiration behind his newly published novel The Last Tiger.
Already an established and acclaimed crime writer, The Last Tiger takes Black into new territory with his first historical novel.
Set in Tasmania in the early 20th century, its hero, young Lithuanian immigrant Myko, develops a fascination with the island’s top predator, the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, which is being hunted to extinction by the island’s settlers — including Myko’s own father.
The last known Tassie tiger died in captivity in Tasmania’s Hobart zoo in 1936.
However, when Australian-born Black returned to the country of his birth to work for a small rural paper, he soon found not everyone is convinced the Tassie tiger is no more, even in mainland Australia where the animal is reckoned to have died some 2000 years ago.
Working as a reporter, Black took a call from someone who claimed to have captured footage of a tiger near the outskirts of suburban Melbourne.
"He sent the footage over and it clearly wasn’t a dog or a panther," Black said.
"The only way I can describe it is that it’s almost like a quadruped kangaroo with the head of a dog.
"I thought it was vaguely interesting and put it in the paper, as you would with a Loch Ness monster story. The next day the phone was absolutely red hot with people calling to say they’d seen them too."
One caller claimed to have hit a Tassie tiger in his "ute" while another reader in his 90s claimed that Tasmanian tigers had once been brought to the area as part of a travelling show.
"By then my interest was well and truly piqued, so I decided to research the subject. It struck me that there was great story here and it deserved to be told," Black said.
Despite the name, the Tasmanian tiger was — or is — not a feline, but a dog-like marsupial which earned its name from the black stripes along its back.
Forced from mainland Australia by competition from the dingoes that arrived with the first human settlers, the animal’s final refuge as in the dense forests of Tasmania and Black believes it is not impossible that some might still be found there.
However, there is also an explanation for those mainland sightings.
"One researcher is absolutely adamant that an early group of environmentalists took live tigers to the mainland and let them loose," Black said.
"All this was absolute gold to a novelist. The more I was writing, the more the story was writing itself."
Despite the interest it sparked, Black is reluctant to say for sure whether or not that footage he saw at the newspaper was of a Tasmanian tiger.
"It’s hard to say what I saw, but some of the sightings are unmistakably Tasmanian tigers," he said.
"One guy told me he had seen one with the black stripes, but what had really got him was that it had two tails. I thought he was a crank until I spoke to an expert who said that could be a female carrying her young in her pouch with the young’s tail sticking out.
"The romantic novelist in me would like to think that it does still exist, but so much was stacked against it. They sent 3000 tiger pelts back to London to make waistcoats for the aristocracy because there was a fashion for them at one stage. I would like to think it is out there, but I just don’t know. If they are out there, they are extremely rare and the likelihood of them being seen is a million to one, because they will know you are there within a five mile radius."
He adopts a similar attitude to our local mystery creature. Growing up, he admits to being fascinated by Nessie and being a firm believer, and later as a journalist in Inverness hunting out old file stories about sightings on the loch.
He may not be so sure about Tassie tigers or Nessie, but is much more certain about those other mysterious creatures of the countryside, the much reported alien black cats.
After all, he has seen one for himself.
"It literary ran across my path on a nature reserve just outside Edinburgh," he said.
"This whole field of cryptozoology is fascinating in that we do keep finding things that have been extinct for ages. Who knows what’s out there?"
• The Last Tiger by Tony Black is published by Cargo Books, price £8.99.
Black has also recently released a paperback edition of His Father’s Son and the first in a potential new crime series in Artefacts of The Dead, both published by Black & White Publishing, and The Inglorious Dead, published by McNidder & Grace.
Tony Black will also be back in the Highland Capital on Saturday 23rd August, interviewing fellow crime writer Caro Ramsay as part of the Inverness Courier supported Inverness Book Festival.
You have until midnight on Sunday 3rd August to vote for The Last Tiger's place on the shortlist of The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize at