Elusive 'panther' may be on the move

By Michelle Nelson of the Ashburton Guardian -
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Is it a panther - or just a really big wild cat? This creature was snapped on the frozen surface of Lake Clearwater. Photo / Michael O'Neill
Is it a panther - or just a really big wild cat? This creature was snapped on the frozen surface of Lake Clearwater. Photo / Michael O'Neill

Mid-Canterbury's elusive black panther may have moved south.

Last week a delivery driver spotted what he described as a large cat-like animal feeding on road kill just outside the Fairlie township in the early hours of the morning.

The description was remarkably similar to reports in a number of sightings of the panther-like animal in Mid Canterbury roughly the size of a Labrador dog, with round head and a distinctive long tail.

Such sightings began trickling in 1992 when the animal was spotted at the Ashburton River mouth.

But the legend really took flight this century when Marcus Ewart and David Tutton reported seeing a large, black panther-like cat near Alford Forest; two years later the cat appeared again, this time witnessed by Peter and Toni May in the Ashburton Gorge.

A month later, in October 2003, truck driver Chad Stewart was startled by a huge black cat in the Mayfield foothills.

The same month the cat appeared again, this time near the Fairton meat works.

Several sightings were reported in the Seafield and Pendarves areas in January 2004.

In May 2005 Mark Brosnahan met the beast in the foothills area, and Nic Newman came face-to-face with the legendary black cat on the Mt Somers Walkway in June 2005.

Brent Thomas happened across the cat at the Ashburton River Mouth in August 2006. More sightings in the Pendarves district followed

The last reported sighting came in August last year. Professional photographer Michael O'Neill captured an image of a large black animal slinking across the frozen surface of Lake Clearwater, providing the clearest photo yet.

Further afield the cat was seen near Twizel in 1996, two years later a tawny coloured Labrador-sized cat appeared near Cromwell, and Southland residents reported seeing bobcat-like animal in the Mataura area.

Department of Conservation officials have consistently stated the animals are large feral cats; however those who have seen them firsthand have down rejected that explanation.

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