A relatively unknown New Zealand cryptid is the South Island Panther.
Sightings of these cats are confined mainly to the Canterbury
area and have led to the suspicion that the animal or animals are escapees from a private collection.
Sightings began in 1996 when a large black cat, about the size of a Labrador
was seen by a woman who was mountain biking in the Twizel area. The cat was seen at a distance of about 30 metres.
MAF was notified of the sighting and it was explained away as a misidentification of a large feral cat.
However, the cat problem was to come back and haunt them when in August 1998 another large cat resembling a
Mountain Lion was observed in the Dunstan Ranges
near Cromwell, once again the animal was described as the size of a Labrador and having a
dark orange – mustard coloured pelt.
MAF dismissed it once again as another feral cat sighting.
At the same time these sightings were coming in people in the Mataura area were seeing and animal similar in
appearance to a Bobcat.
July 1999 and another sighting of a large black panther was reported, this time however in the Mackenzie Country.
A report also came in from a Pest Destruction Officer from Banks Peninsular.
Also in July, a Mountain Lion was photographed crossing a paddock near Omarama, once again government officials
investigated the sightings and once again, the conclusion reached was another case of mistaken identity involving the giant
of the area, which they assured people could reach a weight of up to 14 kg in the wild.
December of 1999 saw sightings of what has come to be known as the “Moeraki Mountain Lion”. This
cat was seen by Canadian tourists as it sunned itself on rocks near Moeraki, South of Omaru. It was described as being distinctly
Mountain Lion-like, which these tourists had themselves seen in their native habitat, about 3 metres long and golden coloured.
The cat on being spotted sauntered from the rocks and disappeared from view.
The tourists were met with some ridicule; the sighting was however given some serious consideration by a local
restaurateur, who offered a reward for conclusive proof of the creature’s existence, none was ever forthcoming.
Another cat to gain fame and a name was a large Mountain Lion-like animal seen in the Lindis Pass area in 1999. It was hiding in
the undergrowth and photographed by a pair of British tourists and came to be known as the “Lindis Lion”.
Early 2001 and the Ashford Black cat was once again seen in the Bushside area of Ashford Forest.
The winter of 2001 brought renewed sightings on a farm in the Winterslow
area of the Ashford Forest,
it was another sighting of the big black cat, this time it was seen in a deer enclosure at twilight.
A similar animal was also seen in the Anama area, and made this area its home for the next two years, creating
sporadic sightings until 2003.
A Black cat was also sighted in the Mayfield area near Ashburton in October.
2001 also saw the Fairlington area become the home of a large Black Cat.
2003 and yet again another sighting of the mystery cat in the Ashford forest area, this time however the owners
of the property where the cat was sighted had noted strange behaviour among the stock on their property at the time the cat
was sighted .
November once again saw a team of investigators and an Orana
Wildlife Park cat expert descend
on the area and look for signs of the big cat’s presence, but nothing conclusive was found.
October 2003 also brought renewed sightings of the Fairlington Cat, which was seen lurking behind a fence near
the stockyards of the PPCS Meat works.
2005 and a new sighting of another large Black Panther and it was seen and photographed at Lake Clearwater,
in the hills which overlook the Clearwater settlement.
May of 2005 produced yet another Mountain Lion sighting, this time in Queenstown, by an Australian Tourist,
the cat was seen in some scrub near the Heritage Hotel, described as being the size of a Golden Retriever Dog, but it moved
and walked like a cat.
With the descriptions there are three likely candidates for the species of cat found in the South
Each has a melanistic (Black) version, the first and most likely for the Black Cat sightings is the Black Panther,
Phantera, Melanistic Leopards, Panthera
pardus are also not unheard of and originate from South East Asia, and the last candidate
is of course the American Mountain Lion, Felis concolor which also has a moderately
common melanistic form.
The diverse area of the sightings is not beyond the reach of any of these cats as they can easily cover 30 km
per day and Canterbury’s climate would be well suited to any of these species, these
animals would easily be able to sustain themselves on Canterbury’s
ample rabbit and opossum population.
Judging from the sightings more than one cat being involved is not and impossibility, the possibility of breeding
occurring should not be overlooked.
Why haven’t they been found?
Cats such as these have remained elusive in the British Isles and continue to do so, unlike the British Cats
we actually have a starting date for the phenomena, how ever the cats came to be in Canterbury,
it all started in 1996.
As many people are scared of the ridicule they will face in reporting sightings of these creatures and the many
other cryptozoological animals that inhabit our country, I have no doubt that more people have seen these creatures, but are
unwilling to come forward.
To me this is a very narrow view as every New Zealander has the right to know and be proud of our Un-natural
Yes I can understand reservations in some cases, as there are those people who would be more than willing to
try and shoot these animals to bring back proof, if only for the fame and the monetary gain it would bring. I too can see
the governmental departments that receive such reports, cringe at the amount of money that may have to be spent on expeditions
that may end up as a waste of time and resources, or even their concern over panic as in the case of the Big Cat sightings.
However, the New Zealand
public also has a right to know these things exist and make up their own minds.
Populations of Moehau, Waitoreke, and even perhaps Moa may exist in areas known only to a few people too scared
of the response they may get to say anything, or are there those that do know these animals exist, but would much prefer they
remain a mystery to the mainstream public. Preferring knowledge of their existence remained shared among a select few.