|Mysteries and Strangeness
... and the very unusual...
Animals and Creatures:
aka: Phantom Big Cats, Alien Big Cats (ABC)
Over the last decade a myriad of sightings would seemingly offer proof that a handful of 'alien' big cats are roaming the South Island countryside.
And why not? The climate is quite acceptable to the leopard and especially to the Mountain Lion which in particular is found in a wide variety of climatic zones in its native country. There is also an abundance of food available to them in the South Island, ranging from rabbits and birds to deer, not to mention livestock.
But the skeptics point to the question of how did they get there… And the absolute proof that would come from the capture of an actual specimen, or even faeces. Or the evidence of an actual carcass that bore all the trademarks of a big cat kill. The sheep carcass with the puncture marks typical of a swipe with a powerful claw for example. Although it has to be said that many a kill attributed to rogue dogs may indeed be due to something else…
Search parties, often close on the heals of a sighting, have without exception come up empty handed, even with the use of helicopters, finding not a trace - generally causing the original sighting to be dismissed.
But even when in the countryside, human beings tend to be somewhat clumsy and far from stealthy. Most wildlife will see or hear the approach of a human long before the human realises the animal is there. Most sightings of unusual cats tend to happen 'by accident',
Overseas experience has shown that very rarely do people looking for them ever see them…
'In 1983 in England, the Royal Marines failed to track down a big cat believed to be feeding on sheep on Exmoor despite having considerable resources at their disposal including night-vision equipment etc. The cat merely avoided them and chose its meal stops a few miles away whilst the Marines were in attendance! It must be remembered that these animals survive by their stealth.'
Skeptics also point out that people sighting wild cats from a distance could be misled because of a lack of ground references to compare their size, and this is quite reasonable. If you examine the photo of a Mountain Lion though, you will notice the distinctive big cat proportion. Small head, big body and long tail, this makes them very difficult, one would think, to mistake for a household moggy, even a large one - especially if you had seen an actual Mountain Lion before, as some witnesses have.
The Suspect Species
Black Panther: This is a generic term commonly used to describe big black cats, obviously because one biological classification of wild cats is genus Panthera. This includes Lions, Leopards, Snow leopards, Jaguars, Tigers, Cheetahs and even Sabre-Toothed Tigers. So in actuality there is no one distinct species of wild cat called a Black Panther. Big cats described as Black Panthers are most likely either Leopards, or possibly a Jaguar or Mountain Lion (also known as Puma or Cougar) with Melanistic coloration.
The term Melanistic is derived from the word 'melanin', a dark coloured skin and hair pigment, resultant from a recessive gene which may be present in either, or both parents.
Leopard: Panthera pardus
New Zealand sightings of 'black panthers' are most likely to be of a Leopard originating from Southeast Asia, where melanistic versions tend to be relatively common in the low light conditions of the tropical forests floor.
Description: The Leopard's head is relatively small and convex in profile, the ears are rounded. The legs are rather short and stout and the tail is long and full.
Depending on the species of leopard, the size ranges are as follows : head and body length 91cm - 191cm, tail length 58cm - 110cm, shoulder height ranging from 43cm - 76cm.
Leopards can weigh between 30kg and 91kg.
Mountain Lion: Felis concolor
Descriptions of big cat sightings labelled Mountain Lion are likely to be just that, a Mountain Lion, also known as Puma or Cougar and not easily mistaken for any of the other big cats. A native of the Americas, it has the greatest latitudinal distribution of any wild cat species, being found in all habitats throughout North and South America.
Description: Mountain Lions can display a wide variation in coat colour, from a buff or sandy-brown to reddish-brown, through to a light silver and slate grey. A black version, though not common, has also been reported. Overall the coat is uniform in colour and is essentially unmarked.
The forelegs are shorter than the hind legs and the foot pads are relatively large. Their tail is fairly long, gradually darkening towards the tip.
The size of Mountain Lions varies according to geographical location but as a guide they measure around 97cm to 220 cm head and body with a tail of around 53cm to 82cm, the height at the shoulder would be between 58cm and 76cm and weight between 35kg and 85kg.
There is a big difference between wild and domestic cats, big wild cats can be extremely dangerous, especially Mountain Lions. Do not approach them. Most cats will avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape. Stay calm and face them.
If a big cat acts aggressively towards you do not run, because this may trigger the animal's instinct to attack. Try to appear larger by raising your hands and avoid bending over or crouching.
Throw rocks, branches, or whatever can be obtained without turning your back or bending over - and fight back if attacked. Apparently people have successfully fought back against Mountain Lions with rocks, sticks, or bare hands.
Note: Mysterious New Zealand is not an expert on big cats or the intracacies of human interaction with them. The above tips are the result of our research only. For more information, consult an expert in the field.
Some Samples of New Zealand Big Cat Sightings
4th August 2006: Big Black Cat, Haketere (north side of the Ashburton River Mouth) by Brent Thomas of Rangiora
"Yesterday (4/8/06) at around lunch time my wife and I both saw what was a very very large jet black cat.
We were on the lookout on the north side of the Ashburton river mouth at a place called Haketere I think. We looked down onto the river flat and saw the cat. I have seen large feral cats before and it was nothing like them. For a start it was standing clear of the long grass/weeds it was standing in so must have been quite tall. Even a very large cat would have been partially hidden by the weed, whereas this I could see underneath its belly. I was no more than 30m from the animal and I estimate it was a similar size to my Golden Lab/Mastif cross with a very long tail. Once it got wind of us it was gone up river very smartly.
Before I was sceptical, but seeing something with your own eyes is very definite. The stories ARE true, I have seen it."
3rd May 2005: Big Black Cat, Mid Canterbury
Mark Brosnahan of mid Canterbury saw and photographed a big black cat. His digital photographs clearly show the animal has the appearance of a black panther or large black cat-like animal. As the animal was photographed standing in long grass, it is difficult to gauge its scale, however he equated it with the size of a dog, with a long tail.
TVNZ's Close Up at Seven program interviewed Brosnahan and presented his photographs. They also spoke to Peter and Toni May who sighted a big black cat in the same area in September 2003 and truck driver Chad Stewart who saw one eighteen months ago.
Click here to read the transcript of the Close Up at Seven report by Jendy Harper.
October 11th 2003: Black Panther, PPCS meatworks in Fairton, 8 kilometres 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 north-west of Ashburton Despite the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and big-cat experts looking for the panther, no positive signs of it were found.
October 3, 2003: Black Panther Mayfield, 35 kilometres west of Ashburton
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 first went to drop off the sheep at the property of Blair and Sarah Gallagher at Mayfield, 35 kilometres (21 miles) west of Ashburton, on the South Island of New Zealand, on Friday, October 3, 2003, Mr. Stewart noticed a huge black animal sitting beside the stock yards.
At first he thought it was a dog, but then realised its tail was too long. He watched the animal for about five minutes, before it took off up the hill, stopping halfway before slinking out of sight.
Once he got over the shock, Mr. Stewart was convinced it was a Black Panther. "Not that I am a big cat expert, but it definitely wasn't a dog."
After it disappeared, Mr. Stewart unloaded the sheep while looking over his shoulder to see "if the animal was coming back to get me."
He warned the Gallaghers. Mr. Gallagher said he had noticed some strange behaviour among the stock at the time."
"It seemed very unusual that there was quite a lot of sheep moving up behind the woolshed." he said.
People's safety, and especially that of his son, was weighing heavily on his mind. "I certainly couldn't feel comfortable letting him play out there at the moment."
A helicopter search on Saturday (October 4, 2003) found nothing.
2002: Big Black Puma-like Cat sighted at night in Omaui, south of Invercargill (second sighting)
Click here to read the eye-witness account of New Zealander Christopher Dean.
2001: Black Panther, Farm at Winterslow, Alford Forest
Alford Forest resident David Wightman said a large black cat was spotted in a gorge area of his Winterslow property in the winter of 2001.
Mr. Wightman said his worker, Marcus Ewart, and an English friend, David Tattum, were both looking through binoculars when Mr. Tattum saw the animal. The pair watched it slowly walk for about 100 metres before disappearing into the underbrush.
Mr. Wightman said they had not come forward at the time out of fear people wouldn't believe them. However, when he started to make enquiries, other stories surfaced.
A positive sighting of the cat matching the description was reported in the Bushside area just before the sighting at Winterslow. Mr. Wightman said three men saw an unusual animal at twilight in a deer-fenced area.
Late 1999: Black Panther, Banks Peninsula
"A similar sighting was reported on Banks Peninsula in late 1999 by a pest destruction officer."…
December 13th, 1999: Mountain Lion, Moeraki (or Lake Moeraki)
A Canadian tourist who believes a North American mountain lion is stalking the Otago coast is having difficulty being taken seriously.
Professor Terry Chattington spotted what he thought was a mountain lion standing on boulders above Moeraki, south of Oamaru, on Friday afternoon.
However, it was only when he reached Te Anau yesterday that he found someone who, while they may not have taken him seriously, did at least listen.
Professor Chattington said he and his wife, Stella, were photographing birds when he spotted a large golden coloured cat, about 3m long, which was the spitting image of a North American mountain lion.
"I know what these things look like - I've seen them before," Professor Chattington said.
He asked his wife to take a photograph of the animal, but, by the time she got her camera organised, it had moved away.
"It stood up on a rock and looked at us, surveying the territory.
"Then it walked down these huge boulders and disappeared."
The Chattingtons began looking for the signs to the zoo they assumed must have been up on the hill.
"I thought the fences must have been hidden by the rocks and the bush," Mr Chattington said.
"We told people in a restaurant and they just laughed. We couldn't find a police station to report it at."
Mr Chattington notified the Department of Conservation on his arrival at Te Anau yesterday afternoon and from there Invercargill police were called.
"This is a safety hazard all right. These things can move 30km in day no trouble. They would take sheep, cattle or even children," Professor Chattington said.
Invercargill police said they had no plans to take the matter further. However, they would look into it again if more sightings were reported.
Professor Chattington is not the first overseas visitor to report predatory felines roaming the wilds of the South Island. In July this year, British tourists Mark and Deb Greening reported having sighted "a very large black creature" stalking the Mackenzie Country, about 59km from Omarama.
The couple reported the sighting of what they believed was a panther only after learning the animals were not natives of New Zealand mountains. The mountain lion is a relatively shy animal native to Western Canada, North America and Mexico which preys on deer, wild pigs, rabbits, rodents and farm animals.
It is usually light, tawny brown but can appear grey or almost black depending on the light. The Mountain Lion is also known as a Cougar, Puma or Panther.
July 16th 1999: Black Panther, Lindis Pass
On Wednesday two British tourists saw what they believed was a big black cat-like creature stalking through the Mackenzie Country. Mark and Deb Greening were so concerned about the "very large black creature" they saw about 59km from Omarama, towards Queenstown, that they reported their find, with photographic proof, to Queenstown police on Wednesday night.
The pair were travelling towards Queenstown in their campervan when Mrs Greening saw the creature in the undergrowth. Curiosity compelled them to turn back for a closer look where, to their astonishment, the Greenings found themselves about 20 to 30m from what they thought was an extremely large cat. "It was the size of an Alsatian dog, but a bit longer in the body," Mrs Greening said yesterday. "I was curious - it was so big ... I thought in my mind: `Is that a cat?' It was just too big," she said.
So was it a Black Panther? "It was the first thing that came to mind," Mrs Greening said. They stood debating whether it was a cat before deciding to photograph it, by which time the creature had run off and was some 50m away. "We've just come from America where they have wild mountain lions ... we weren't even sure if such large cats were natural to the mountains here," Mr Greening said.
An inquiry to a Queenstown visitor centre confirmed that large wild cats did not roam the South Island high country. That prompted the Greenings to report their find to the police. "We were merely concerned for the local farmers and wanted to let them know (if it was unusual)," Mr Greening said.
He conceded that the creature "could well have been a very, very large pet cat," but it seemed unlikely. Queenstown police sent a fax about the sighting to the Omarama constable, who could not be contacted for comment yesterday. News of the sighting yesterday shocked and amused several locals. "Good God, I hope not," said Omarama Hotel owner Gloria Casserly. "I suppose stranger things have happened in Omarama."
Mid August 1998: Mountain Lion, Dunstan Ranges, near Cromwell
"I was leaning against the DOC sign for the Young Australian mine at around 1400m in the Dunstan Range. I was scanning the hills on the opposite side of the gorge through the binoculars and sighted a large cat moving easily about its territory. It certainly appeared larger than our Labrador dog, dark orange-mustard in colour. I had it in my sights for 25 minutes. The day was still, clear and cold. I watched the animal move up and down the steep slopes and lie out on exposed rocks. Its movements, its style, were pure cat.
The animal was clearly comfortable with its habitat and its coat looked to be in good condition. Sheep grazing below did not appear to be aware of its presence. Soon after 4pm the temperature dropped significantly and I decided it was time to leave. As I dropped down I kept the glasses on my mountain lion until the track led away from its territory. I made a formal report to DOC in Alexandra the next day with map references and since then have put up with the good-natured disbelief of friends."
1996: Black Panther, Twizel
Reports of a panther-like creature roaming the Mackenzie Country have rekindled memories of a Christchurch woman's encounter with a big cat in the area. Schoolteacher Marianne Daines says she was mountain biking in Twizel three years ago when she saw what she thought at first was a big black Labrador about 30m away. "We've got a black lab, but then I realised it was the wrong shape and was moving differently. A dog and a cat run very differently." Mrs Daines said she saw a man moving in the same direction and presumed he and the animal were together. She was commenting yesterday after two British tourists reported seeing a big, black cat-like animal on the Lindis Pass.
Department of Conservation spokesman Richard McNamara said the sightings were probably of wild cats in the Mackenzie district which had proliferated since the release of the rabbit calicivirus.
Sample Sightings from around the World
Alien Big Cats
Great Britain is in the grip of an epidemic of Big Cat sightings. From the moors of the Scottish Highlands to the wild Cornish peninsula through the rolling farmland of Middle England, large feline predators are being sighted at an alarming rate. In 2001 alone there were more than 400 big cat sightings throughout the United Kingdom. In many cases the animals were described as resembling pumas or black panthers…
Cover-up Charge over 50 Big Cat Sightings in Victoria, Australia
Leaked documents that reveal more than 50 sightings of Victoria's legendary black panther have sparked claims of an X Files-style cover-up…
For Maui, it was year of the Cat
OLINDA, Maui - Nearly a year after sightings of a large exotic animal began spreading around this rural community, some are left wondering whether the big cat was ever out there in the first place. The mystery cat of Olinda remains as mysterious as ever...
NEW (4th August 2006)
Brent Thomas of Rangiora
Sighting of a big black cat at Haketere on the north side of the Ashburton River Mouth...
Exclusive Eye-witness account from Christopher Dean
Sightings of a big black Puma-like cat in the Omaui area, south of Invercargill in 1996 and 2002.
Transcript - Close Up at Seven
Transcript of a Jendy Harper report which aired on TVNZ on the 3rd of May 2005. Includes digital photographs taken by the most recent Canterbury eyewitness, Mark Brosnahan.
British Big Cat Society
An Educational site set up to scientifically identify, quantify, catalogue and protect the Big Cats that freely roam the British countryside.
The Scottish Big Cat Trust
The Scottish Big Cat Trust is a Scottish Charity that is at the forefront of research into naturalised Non Native Cats. This site provides public access to a database of over 1300 sightings as well as a wealth of further information on the exotic cats that are currently living freely and breeding in Scotland.
A compilation of felid (family Felidae) research and news, combined with a laymans interpretation and commentary.
Simba's Pride of Big Cats
Big Cat pictures, info and sounds plus lots of useful links to other Big Cat sites.
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