New Zealand Bigcats
Mount Somers resident Andrea Thompson, who saw a panther-like big black cat run off with a lamb. The mysterious cat is being hunted by documentary makers Mark Orton and Pip Walls.
It's not just in Australia and the UK that big black cats are sighted in places where they shouldn't be - our neighbour New Zealand has had its fair share of anomalous felid sightings, and the kiwis are none the wiser about how they came to be there.
Plan to catch 'panther' on film John Keast, The Press Friday, December 8, 2006 Dunedin-based Orton and film partner Pip Walls are making a 24-minute documentary on sightings of a mystery black cat in Mid-Canterbury. They have visited Mayfield, Mount Somers and Ashburton in their quest for answers to sightings of the cat, likened by some to a panther. Orton, studying for a diploma in natural history film-making, has the backing of Natural History New Zealand and has interviewed witnesses, Conservation Department staff and an Australian crypto-zoologist. The film will screen at the Regent in Dunedin next May. This summer, as part of his hunt, Orton will return to Panthers Rock, the new name for what was once the Mayfield Tavern. The tavern is a popular spot for swapping big-cat stories and has a file of sightings. Mount Somers resident Andrea Thompson said she was in her garden about 6.30pm in October last year when a big black cat dragged a young lamb across a paddock. She was alerted by loud bleating from a ewe. Thompson screamed and the cat ran off after it dropped the lamb, which later died. "It flew over the fence. I've never seen anything like it in my life. It ripped the lamb," she said. The cat was about the size of a five to seven-month labrador dog, but unmistakably it was a cat. "Its tail was very long," she said. Thompson said she had worked in animal welfare in England and believed the cat was feral. "It was frightening, I can tell you," she said. Thompson's sighting is one of several. Orton is keen to hear details of other sightings. Phone 021 222 0497 or (03) 479 0200.
INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM Issue 34 November 2006 CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FURRED KIND The big cat mystery down under. Alien cats, and we don’t mean extraterrestrial, appear to be on the loose in New Zealand and Australia, with hundreds of witnesses telling stories: there are black panthers and mountain lions living on the outskirts of Christchurch, and Melbourne. IAN WISHART investigates. “I had started to drift off when a most unusual sensation came over me,” wrote retired Kiwi soldier Frank Burdett in the very first issue of Investigate magazine nearly seven years ago. “The hairs on the back of my neck slowly began to prickle. Not all at once, a few at first, then a gradual increase. There was a heavy concentration of a dusty, musty aroma that permeated the air and my nostrils seemed to be full of it. “I lay there momentarily trying to account for the strange smell. I strained to hear but, apart from the sound of the moving waters of the two rivers, everything appeared deathly still and quiet. Then I felt the nylon parachute panel [being used as a mosquito net] fall from my face and all hell broke loose." Read more here.
'Panther' eludes expert stalkers Jarrod Booker, NZ Herald August 19, 2006 The legend of the elusive panther-like creature roaming rural Canterbury is growing as animal experts join the search, but not even they have been able to solve the mystery. For at least five years, the unusually proportioned animal or animals have been seen around the sparsely populated mid-Canterbury area, from the foothills to the sea. Described as a large black cat, much bigger than a domestic cat, with a long tail, it is often seen slinking around on its belly and has an aversion to people. Recent sightings prompted experts from Biosecurity New Zealand and Christchurch's Orana Wildlife Park to investigate in the area last week, but they didn't find it. Biosecurity NZ believes it may be a particularly large feral cat, but Orana Park staff say it is possible the animal is a panther or big cat brought into the country before regulations were tightened. Pawprints found in the area of one of the sightings were analysed by Orana Park staff this week and found to be that of a dog. "It would be nice to get to the bottom of this. But I guess there is every possibility that we won't," says Biosecurity NZ senior adviser Sonya Bissmire. Rangiora man Brent Thomas is one of those whose recent sightings prompted experts to travel to the area to investigate. Mr Thomas was with his wife, Jill, and grandson Kahn, admiring the views from a lookout point near the mouth of the Ashburton River recently when he saw the animal in flattened-out grass on the edge of the river flats. "It was not just a big black cat. I've seen wildcats before and it was something much more than that. It looked up at us and basically bolted. It was a very fleeting glimpse at best." He likened it to the size of his golden labrador dog. "I'm reluctant to use the word panther, because it sounds like you know what you are talking about. But I have never seen anything like it." The local newspaper, the Ashburton Guardian, says the area has claimed the creature as its own. "People who ring us with sightings are normal and sane people. They are not people given to flights of fantasy," says Guardian chief reporter Sue Newman. Her son spotted the creature last year in a local walkway. "He's done a lot of tramping and hiking and he's never seen anything like it before." Orana Park animal manager Ian Adams says there are lot of theories about the animal. It could be a zoo animal brought into the country that had escaped, or one or more large feral cats. A panther could survive in the harsh Canterbury winter by feeding on rabbits and birds. "Anything is possible. I don't think we will ever get to the bottom of it until we have a body." Ms Newman says interest in the creature has waxed and waned depending on the frequency of sightings, but the input of experts had added credibility and got people talking again. People wanted to know what it was, but Ms Newman believes people would take exception to people going hunting for it. "If someone came came across its carcass ... that would be different."
TVNZ August 11, 2006 Big cat experts say they cannot rule anything out after a sighting in Canterbury of a mystery panther-like beast. But a search has failed to find any trace of the elusive feline. Brent and Jill Thomas have joined a number of other people who are convinced there is a panther or something similar on the lose. The pair had been on a day trip to the Ashburton rivermouth when they saw the creature.
"I've seen feral cats in the Lewis before and all I can say is it definitely was much larger than that - I equate it to the size of the family dog," says Brent. Jill says it was bounding like a dog but it was jet black and "it wasn't a dog". An amateur photographer last year photographed a cat near Lake Clearwater in Mid Canterbury and there have been other sightings over the years. But searches have failed to find any tracks and experts say it could just be a super big wild cat. A Biosecurity New Zealand investigator and staff member from Orana Wildlife Park have been searching the Ashburton rivermouth after the latest reported sighting - the sixth since 2001 and the second time that biosecurity officials from the Ministry of Agriculture have conducted a search. Biosecurity NZ senior adviser Sonia Bissmire says the information seemed to warrant an official search but they will take no further action unless there is another credible sighting. Orana Park head keeper Graeme Petrie says natural selection with animals in the wild results in the survival of the strongest and biggest. "Whether it is a large domestic cat we just don't know," he says.
TVNZ August 11, 2006 A Biosecurity New Zealand investigator and staff member from Orana Wildlife Park have been searching the Ashburton River mouth after a reported sighting of a large cat. It is the sixth reported sighting of a large black panther-like animal in mid Canterbury since 2001 and the second time that biosecurity officials from the Ministry of Agriculture have conducted a search. The latest sighting reported was last week at Hakatere Beach, near Ashburton. A couple and their grandson described the animal as much larger than a domestic cat. Biosecurity New Zealand senior adviser, Sonia Bissmire, says it seemed credible enough to warrant an official search. But, she says Biosecurity New Zealand will take no further action unless there is another credible sighting. Photos rekindle Canterbury panther search NZPA Thursday, May 5, 2005 Rumours that a creature resembling a black panther is stalking the foothills of mid-Canterbury have been revived by reports of a new sighting. Timaru man Mark Brosnahan, who has a bach at Lake Clearwater, photographed "a large black animal" in the hills overlooking the bach settlement last week. He was on his way back from taking photos in the hills when he saw the animal approaching up a valley. "I decided to take a photo and while removing my pack the animal heard me and crouched to the ground and watched me." He took two photos before the animal ran off. Mid-Canterbury's mysterious black panther was first spotted near Alford Forest in 2001. It reappeared in October when stock truck driver Chad Stewart reported a sighting on a Mayfield property. The cat was also spotted near the PPCS meatworks at Fairton in October 2003. Pat Hannan, who was walking his dog at the time, said the cat was behind a fence near the works stockyards. "I thought it was a dog at the start, but then I saw the tail and had another look and it was definitely not a dog or cat or possum or anything like that." Big cat experts have failed to find any trace of the beast. Ashburton canvas maker Peter May saw a similar animal 18 months ago, but did not report it because he thought no one would believehim. He saw the animal near Blowing Pt Bridge, on the main Ashburton Gorge Road from Mt Somers to the Lake Clearwater settlement. Mr May said it was rumoured the animal had escaped from a private zoo. "It is definitely from the feline family and definitely enormous." He said the animal spotted by Mr Brosnahan was on one of the many walking tracks in the area. The tracks were about 30cm wide and photographs showed the animal was at least as wide as the track. He said it could be surviving on possums and rabbits, because there were no reports of stock losses in the area. It was possible there was more than one, or that it was a different variety of cat. Department of Conservation officer for the area Graeme Crump said it was possible - but not probable - that a big cat could be living in the foothills. He said feral cats were a problem in the area and threatened native creatures. They lived on larger prey like rabbits, but were adaptable enough to eat crickets and other wildlife. He said predator control was carried out regularly in the lakes area to protect special bird populations, but only domestic cats turned wild had been caught.
Fantastic Feline - Hunting the Big Black Cat Close Up at Seven transcript, TVNZ May 3, 2005 Susan Wood: Like the Loch Ness Monster and the abominable snowman, the Black Panther of mid Canterbury is a legend that just won’t die. For the past four years there have been rumours and whisperings of a big black cat roaming the central Canterbury foothills. The last one to go public was a truck driver about 18 months ago. After that encounter MAF sent a team to mid Canterbury to investigate, but they came back empty-handed. Well tonight, Close-up can reveal yet another sighting just last week. Don’t laugh at us, because this time, we have photographic evidence. Jendy Harper on the trail of the big black cat... Jendy Harper: It was a stunning day in the most majestic country, Lord of the Rings land. Looking down on Lake Clearwater and Lake Camp as photographed by Mark Brosnahan just last week. But it was a photo Mark took at the bottom of the mountain that excites him most. Mark Brosnahan: “I saw this black um, animal walking up the valley and I thought ‘ooh that looks like a calf or something like that, But when I got a bit closer, I thought, no it’s more, more a, like a farm dog or an Alsation I thought. And I unclicked um the backpack I had on and um as soon as I did that, it basically crouched to the ground and I thought that’s a bit strange.”
Jendy Harper: Mark is now convinced the animal he photographed was in fact feline, a big black cat. So why didn’t you go closer? Mark Brosnahan: “Well its kind of... the way it was acting it just it didn’t seem to be like a friendly kind of animal and I thought ‘well it’s obviously wild’.” Jendy Harper: The creature never took its eyes off Mark. Mark Brosnahan: “Well it was looking at... towards me all the time - it kind of gave me a bit of the heebies as well. I did kind of, track round a bit to make sure it wasn’t, kind of, following me. Then I kind of, it was still crouched down and everything, so I just kept on going back towards the baches.”
Jendy Harper: Back to the safety of the bach and show and tell time with his family. The image clearly shows the creature is black and cat-like but it’s size that matters and in photographs, size is often hard to determine. Ron Thornton (Ministry of Agriculture): “One person might think it looks like a tiny, small, black cat, but another person whose an outdoor person’s first reaction was ‘that is a very large cat’.”
Jendy Harper: Mark knows his cats and his dogs, he’s owned Labradors. He knows what he saw. Mark Brosnahan: “...some more like a sheepdog so it was probably yay long probably and then there was a long tail as well.” Jendy Harper: That’s about the same size as the creature that Peter and Toni May spotted, just down the road in September 2003. Toni May: “My husband said to me, ‘what was that?’ And I looked and my first instance was a dog because I thought it was about that size of a Labrador dog. But then instantly I was drawn to the tail. This tubular um bushy tail, which was quite long and um, that wasn’t a dogs tail.” Peter May: “Well I was quite excited to find that someone’s actually captured it on film. And ah, although its hard to determine the size from the photo, you can see it as filling up a walkway or push-bike track quite easily um, no its definitely a very large cat.” Jendy Harper: Truck driver Chad Stewart was the last person to go public 18 months ago. He saw a big cat about 15 kilometeres from the Lakes, as the crow flies. Chad Stewart: “Just looked like a big black cat really, it was yeah, just, it was quite long, it had a big long tail.”
Jendy Harper: Just hours after they were advised, MAF had a team on the trail looking for fur, faeces and fresh prints. They found nothing but say the sightings are credible. Ron Thornton: “The two hunters with a high power telescopic sight who saw this cat for about two minutes so there was 2 people seeing it. They went so far next day as to take their dog to the same site to make sure that it, you know to try and get some idea of the size and they realised that this black cat was at least the size of their hunting dog.” Jendy Harper: MAF says they can only act on sightings reported directly to them. One local farmer I spoke to said he knows of several sightings of the cat in this area. But they’re mainly from farm workers and they’ve been too scared to go public. Scared of public ridicule and scared of attracting unwanted publicity from around the world. They’re just biding their time until the creature is caught. Until, they say, they finally have proof that their pussy cat has been roaming these ranges.
Peter May: “My view is that maybe it’s some kind of giant feral cat and there may well be more of them around” Ron Thornton: “It would fit with a Puma or something like that.” Mark Brosnahan: “Yeah I’d love to find out more. Yeah I would... got the old interest up.” Susan Wood: “So are we, so call us if you know any more. And Mark Broshahann says he’ll be making an official report to MAF, but given its been 6 days since its sighting, maybe just a bit too late to be launching a search. They are urging any other big cat spotters to contact them just as soon as you can, you know as soon as you see the thing, get on the phone. It’s 0800 809 966.
Panther sighted again - Mid-Canterbury's black panther has come back December 11, 2003 NZPA/New Zealand Herald Several people have sighted what they say was a panther around the Ashburton area since 2001. Now a man walking his dog has reported seeing the animal at the PPCS meatworks in Fairton, 8km north of Ashburton. Pat Hannan was out with his dog Brandy on Sunday morning when he stumbled upon the black cat. "I saw it behind a fence near the stock yards at the plant. I thought it was a dog at the start but then I saw the tail and had another look and it was definitely not a dog or cat or possum or anything like that." Mr Hannan said the panther was around one metre tall and its tail was its most defining feature. "It [the tail] was about as long as its body." The panther was first spotted near Alford Forest in 2001. It reappeared in October when stock truck driver Chad Stewart saw what appeared to be the phantom cat on a property in Mayfield, 35km northwest of Ashburton Despite the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and big-cat experts looking for the panther, no positive signs of it were found. MAF staff, wildlife experts hunt big black cat in vain By Monique Devereux New Zealand Herald October 9, 2003 Is it a bird? Is it a dog? Or is it a stock standard, run-of-the-mill panther? That's what MAF officials and wildlife experts tramped into the foothills of Mt Somers, 40km inland from Ashburton, to try to determine yesterday. But they came home empty-handed. Not a cat, paw print or mauled sheep carcass to be found. Yet that has not swayed local opinion. In Mt Somers village at the foot of the Southern Alps - just a dairy, one petrol bowser and a pub - this is no joke. They've known about the big black cat for years. They just didn't tell anyone. Chad Stewart did, though. Mainly because when he drove his sheep truck into Blair Gallagher's yard last Friday and saw the big cat sitting 30m away looking at him he was "freaked". So freaked he didn't even get out of his cab until the creature had bounded away back into the snow-covered hills. His description - and his fear - was real enough to convince Mr Gallagher. "He said it was about knee high with a long tail, about 90cm, and black. Yes, I do sincerely believe he saw something odd. He's got no reason to make it up. I mean, he was really quite shaken by what he saw." Mr Gallagher was convinced enough to put up a helicopter the next morning to try to spot the animal, but overnight rain and snow had blanketed whatever footprints there might have been. It is of course a perfect place for a stray panther to hide without ever being caught. The Gallagher family farm is between Mt Somers and Montalto. There is still some snow on the ground but yesterday the sky was a perfect blue. Behind the farm are the foothills, then the Alps - miles and miles of inaccessible landscape. Officials from MAF and Christchurch's Orana Wildlife Park searched the farm's borders yesterday but found nothing to suggest there is a cat or any other large animal living wild. Their search was not based on Chad Stewart's sighting alone. Since he reported seeing the cat Mr Gallagher has heard of several sightings of a big black cat. The first by hunters three or so years back, others as recent as three weeks ago - all within about 50km of his farm. Panther sightings have also been reported around the country. Maf's hotline has had calls from Hawke's Bay, Auckland and the deep south of the South Island.
Search underway for panther-like creature New Zealand Herald October 8, 2003 A search is under way for evidence of a panther-like creature sighted at a Mayfield farm near Ashburton. "If there is a large cat such as a panther in the area, there will be evidence such as faeces," said Amelia Pascoe, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry exotic animal response co-ordinator. Maf, which was told only yesterday of the sighting last Friday, will send an investigator and someone from Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch to the farm today. A truck driver said he saw a big black cat on Friday on a farm at Mayfield. Over the past three years Maf has investigated two other similar reports. One was found to be a large black labrador dog, and the other was in the same area as the present investigation, but no evidence of a large cat was found. Since the truck driver came forward, more stories of a mysterious black animal in the area have surfaced, from pig hunters reporting lost dogs to sightings on farms. Less than three weeks ago Tony and Peter May spotted what they thought was a large black cat beside the road. Mrs May said it was too large to be an ordinary cat. "It wasn't a domestic cat, it wasn't a possum and it wasn't a dog. I didn't think much more of it until last night," she said. Maf biosecurity adviser Kerry Mulqueen ruled out that the cat was an escaper from legal captivity, but said he could not rule out an animal being smuggled in. Report puts big cat among sheep NZPA/New Zealand Herald October 7, 2003 Stock-truck driver Chad Stewart unloaded his sheep with an eye over his shoulder after seeing what he believes was a black panther prowling nearby. When he went to drop off sheep at Blair and Sarah Gallagher's farm at Mayfield, 35km northwest of Ashburton, on Friday, Mr Stewart noticed a large black animal sitting beside the stockyards. At first he thought it was a dog, but then realised its tail was too long. He watched the animal for a few minutes before it took off up the hill. "Initially I thought I was seeing things. It's not every day you see a big black cat running up a hill." Once he got over the shock, Mr Stewart was convinced he had seen a black panther - "not that I am a big-cat expert, but it definitely wasn't a dog". Mr Stewart warned the Gallaghers, but a helicopter search on Saturday found nothing. Mr Gallagher said he had noticed some strange behaviour among the stock at the time. "It seemed very unusual that there were quite a lot of sheep moving up behind the woolshed." A big black cat was seen in Mid-Canterbury in 2001. Alford Forest resident David Wightman said the feline was spotted on his farm. He did not come forward then because he feared he would not be believed.