Fantastic Feline - Hunting the Big Black Cat
Report by Jendy Harper, Close Up at Seven
(Aired on Television New Zealand - 3rd May 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.