TODAY |

New Zealanders share stories of encountering claimed South Island panther-like creature

1 NEWS NOW reporter Luke Appleby has been fascinated by recent reported sightings of a New Zealand legend - the South Island panther. He combed through several new sighting reports and approached witnesses to get their stories.

The Canterbury Cat, the Kaikōura Cougar, the Pukaki Puma or the Picton Panther - no matter what you call it, there seem to be an ever-increasing number of New Zealanders who have seen it.

Earlier this week, 1 NEWS published the story of Picton woman Juliearna Kavanagh and her partner Warren Lewis, who say they were alarmed after nearly hitting a very big, panther-like creature while driving south of Blenheim a week ago.

    Your playlist will load after this ad

    Juliearna Kavanagh and Warren Lewis spoke with Seven Sharp. Source: Seven Sharp

    Since then, many Kiwis have made comments to 1 NEWS indicating they've seen it too, with some even sending in completely new accounts of their own sightings.

    More than 20 people made comments on the 1 NEWS Facebook post indicating they too had seen this big cat, or knew someone who had.

    Most people describe it as a very large, dark black cat with a tail much longer than that of a domestic or feral cat. Some say it's up to their waist in height, while others say it is roughly twice as tall as a domestic cat.

    1 NEWS contacted some of those who commented, and while some were receptive and offered up their own stories freely, others feared they would be ridiculed, and would only talk on condition of anonymity.

    Everyone 1 NEWS spoke to said they were 100 per cent confident in what they saw.

    'IT WAS THE PANTHER'

    Two to three years ago, Elizabeth McMaster was sitting on her porch at home in Kyeburn, Central Otago, talking on the phone to a friend when a very large, dark black cat walked past her boundary fence about 20 metres from her.

    "I was in shock - I got such a fright I ran inside and shut the door so fast," she said.

    "It walked off down towards the creek. It was big - it was definitely not a wild cat or a pig or anything like that - it was the panther.

    "Its tail was so long and thick."

    Pete Bradley saw something similar in Gapes Valley, Geraldine around the beginning of 2015 - first from a distance of 200 metres or so - and then just 20 feet away.

    "The first time I saw it was at the bottom of our property as it crossed the creek and went into some scrub," he said.

    "I took the dog and ran down to where I saw it - the dog was very excited and looking around in a frenzy, as she could smell something, but there was thick scrub and bush right through into the neighbours."

    The second time was a week later, in the late afternoon, as Mr Bradley came out of his caravan.

    "I got up to go outside and as I walked around the back of the caravan, there it was.

    "I don't know who was more surprised but I remember seeing these bright eyes looking at me.

    "As I yelled out to my wife to come, it bounded away and disappeared across the road towards the pine plantation.

    "I remember clearly that it looked just like a picture of a black panther ... it was very cat like with a long tail - the tail was almost as long as the body.

    "I would describe it as a black panther, but smaller - too big for a domestic cat.

    "I've been a hunter most of my life and I've heard reports of them right along that range of hills, but I was a sceptic until I saw this."

    KAIKŌURA INLAND ROAD A HOT SPOT

    A few years ago, freelance cameramen Bradley Ambrose and Geoff Mackley filmed what they believed was an unusually large cat next to the the Mason River on the inland road east of Kaikōura - a story which featured on Campbell Live.

    A still from the footage shot by Geoff Mackley of a large cat near the Mason River and Mount Lyford, inland from Kaikoura.
    A still from the footage shot by Geoff Mackley of a large cat near the Mason River and Mount Lyford, inland from Kaikoura. Source: Geoff Mackley/YouTube

    During the segment, a contractor drove past and told reporter Jendy Harper he'd seen the cat as well, as had his son. His son, Hamish Oakeshott, finally revealed his story to 1 NEWS this week.

    Steve Oakeshott on Campbell Live in 2011.
    Steve Oakeshott on Campbell Live in 2011. Source: Campbell Live/Mediaworks

    Some time around 2009, Hamish and a friend had gone up into the hills near Mount Lyford and the Mason River to shoot rabbits.

    "We were out rabbit shooting with a spotlight up the river, wondering why there was no rabbits in there that night - night before they were everywhere," he said.

    "We headed up the fence line that ran alongside the river, and there it was right in front of us, staring, watching every move we did."

    He said the cat was pure black, and was "way too big to be a wild cat" and "bigger than a dog".

    "We looked at each other .... what do we do? Do we shoot it?

    "Then we thought the gun wouldn't be enough to kill it, and would just agitate it, so we left as fast we could, scared that there had been something like that living so close."

    BIOSECURITY OFFICERS 'STUMPED'

    One intriguing sighting came from a woman who didn't want her name used, because she was working for Horizons Regional Council.

    In April 2009, she had been sent to the South Island with two other biosecurity officers she described as having "many years experience in animal biosecurity" to collect samples to take back to the North Island.

    As the trio pulled into a small off-road area near a vineyard in Waipara, they noticed an unusual creature near a fence.

    A photo of the gravel parking lot, taken in 2009, where a Horizons Regional Council worker said she and two other biosecurity officers saw an unusually large cat a few days later.
    A photo of the gravel parking lot, taken in 2009, where a Horizons Regional Council worker said she and two other biosecurity officers saw an unusually large cat. Source: Supplied

    "Three of us saw it and none of us could figure out what it was ... much bigger than a feral cat and they get big up here," the woman said.

    "It was scared of us and disappeared very quickly.

    "I've wondered for ten years what it was - the fact I was with two very experienced animal biosecurity officers and they were also stumped really made me wonder.

    She said it was a large black cat about the size of a labrador, and as it ran off it was close to farm fence posts, which allowed her to gauge its size accurately.

    According to the Fencing Contractors Association of New Zealand, a standard fence height is somewhere around 1.1 metres, and the woman said the cat came half way up a post.

    "I have seen large feral cats that have been trapped by hunters and killed by hunters, plus disturbed them while working in the field - these animals were smaller and all tabby," she said.

    "I would have said this was a dog, except that it didn’t move or act like a dog but acted like a cat.

    "This animal was twice the size of any feral cat I've seen."

    CLAIMED SIGHTINGS IN BLENHEIM

    Perhaps the most recent sighting came from a man who would not identify himself, who said he saw a very large black cat in Blenheim on Monday, this week - just a few days after it was apparently sighted south of the town.

    Another then person told 1 NEWS independently that they saw the exact same creature in Blenheim on Friday night, just one street away on Murphys Road.

    The first said he saw it on Colemans Road in the suburb of Springlands about 8.10pm.

    A map showing the location of Murphy's Road and Coleman's Road in the Blenheim suburb of Springlands.
    A map showing the location of Murphy's Road and Coleman's Road in the Blenheim suburb of Springlands. Source: Google Maps/1 NEWS Composite

    "I was walking up the footpath I saw the animal approaching from like 60 metres away, it's dark," he said.

    "As I get closer, maybe 20 meters away, it stops and stares, so I cross to the middle of the road saying "leave it, get home"

    "I notice it looks like a Labrador, so I refer to it as "boy" and "girl" but had no reaction.

    "I'm maybe 10 metres away now, and notice its tail and knew it's not a black lab.

    "It went down and lay there like it was in stealth mode, but I was no threat.

    "I kept walking, a bit nervous, but thought that maybe it could sense that, so I acted normal, as we do, and carried on by making sure I'm under street light and in middle of the road should something happen.

    "I walk past and as it lays and stares I start thinking 'what are you?'

    "The next morning, I saw that [1 NEWS] article on Facebook, and was thinking "I'm gonna sound crazy".

    COMMENTS RECOUNT SEVERAL MORE RECENT SIGHTINGS

    Other apparent witnesses didn't respond to requests to elaborate on their sighting, and simply left a comment on the 1 NEWS Facebook post about their experience.

    Stacey May Laking wrote that she and he ex-partner had seen the creature at Birdlings Flat near Christchurch about four years ago.

    "We were out there fishing quite far down the beach, when I saw what I swear to this day was a big black panther," she wrote.

    "It was the size of a miniature horse and was running across the sand dunes.

    "It ran like a cat - you couldn't mistake it got anything else.

    "Nobody believed me and this post has made me think I was right all this time ... I know what I saw."

    Emily Chamberlain said she too had seen a similar cat in the area of Mayfield, west of Ashburton in Canterbury.

    "We have been driving around the Mayfield area and saw exactly what you described - sort of the size of a working dog but with a long tail walking through the river."

    Other commenters reported sightings ranging far across the South Island - in the Ahuriri Valley, in a paddock near Naseby, south of Kaikōura, near the Eyre River in North Canterbury, in Cave west of Timaru, at the Ashley River and in the Buller Gorge.

    MPI CAGEY ABOUT BIG CAT

    1 NEWS contacted MPI's biosecurity team, asking whether or not they had plans in place should a panther sighting ever be confirmed.

    Their media representative was critical of 1 NEWS for asking that question, and accused it of scaremongering, with a spokesperson saying "it is not appropriate for Biosecurity New Zealand to discuss hypothetical situations".

    However, the agency did confirm there have been 18 reports made to it since 2000 of very large cat sightings - both in the South and North Island.

    "Investigations have been carried out over the years and no evidence has ever been found to suggest the presence of an exotic feline."

    News tip or more information? Email Luke Appleby or 

    A file image of a melanistic Indian jaguar - also known as a black panther.
    A file image of a melanistic Indian jaguar - also known as a black panther. Source: David Raju/Wikimedia Commons