A new analysis in the respected journal Australian Geographer suggests that Drop Bears -- a predatory and highly feared relative of the Koala Bear -- are much more common and widely distributed in Australia than was previously believed.
The Drop Bear (Thylarctos plummetus) is known to favor dense forests and has been blamed in the past for the unexplained disappearances of several tourists and hikers in Australia. It is predominantly arboreal and typically attacks by dropping onto its prey from above.
The study, conducted by Volker Janssen at the University of Tasmania, used sophisticated remote-sensing and spatial modelling techniques to estimate the geographic range of the Drop Bear.
The species was formerly thought to be confined to just a few locales, but it now appears to be widely distributed across Eastern Australia and parts of the far north and far southwest of the continent.
"I have to say this study makes me pretty nervous," said Miriam Goosem, a field biologist at James Cook University in north Queensland. "I work in a lot of dense forests and if Drop Bears really are that common, then my job suddenly seems quite a bit more dangerous."
"People tend to think of the Saltwater Crocodile as our most dangerous species, and I suppose that's true if you're near the water. But in forests, the Drop Bear is definitely the animal that scares me the most," said Dr Goosem.
"I think we need to get the word out to tourists, as many of them don't know about Drop Bears," said Goosem.
"I'd say if you're coming to Australia and plan to go hiking in the forest, be afraid. Be VERY afraid."