'This was no feral cat' - Marlborough couple say they nearly hit a black panther on SH1 north of Kaikoura

A well-known entrepreneur and her partner have become the latest to report a sighting of a large, panther-like creature in a remote part of the South Island.

A melanistic jaguar - or 'black panther' at the Henry Doorly Zoo in the US. Source: Cburnett/Wikimedia Commons

There are no large cats native to New Zealand, but many people have reported sightings of large cats in remote areas of the South Island over the years, fuelling a theory that there may be an animal - or even a breeding population - living wild there.

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

Juliearna Kavanagh of Picton - an entrepreneur who has owned and run numerous businesses in Marlborough - and her partner Warren Lewis say they were driving on State Highway 1 just before midnight on Friday when the encounter took place.

A map showing the approximate area where a woman and her partner say they encountered a large cat which looked like a puma. Source: 1 NEWS composite/Google Maps

The road was very quiet, she said, and they were about 10 minutes south of Ward travelling north at about 75km/h around a bend.

"We came around the corner and basically there it was - it was 10-15 feet in front of us," Ms Kavanagh said.

Ms Kavanagh said the creature bounded across the road very close in front of their car and showed up in their headlights.

She described it as being much larger and longer than a domestic or feral cat, and it was black or very dark brown in colour.

"It had a big cat head and it had a very sleek, strong-looking body, and it had a huge, long tail."

She and Mr Lewis were shocked, and checked with each other that they had both seen the same thing - a large, black, panther-like cat.

"For the first couple of minutes we just sort of looked at each other," Ms Kavanagh said.

Juliearna Kavanagh and Warren Lewis. Source: Supplied

"We couldn't quite believe what we had seen."

After the sighting, Ms Kavanagh called her father, who told her "this thing's been seen before".

She said it was so unbelievable they had considered not reporting it for fear of being ridiculed, but eventually decided such a creature could pose a danger to unwary trampers or animals in the area.

Ms Kavanagh reported the sighting to police on Saturday morning, as well as to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

She said an MPI representative called her back and questioned her in depth about what she had seen.

Ms Kavanagh said she was told by the representative that MPI had received "six to eight" similar reports in recent years.

She said they are absolutely sure of what they saw and that they had not misidentified the creature.

"I grew up in Southland, Warren grew up in the bush - there's just no way in hell this was a feral cat," she said.

A size comparison between a cougar, a domestic cat, and a human. Source: 1 NEWS/

A spokeperson for MPI confirmed to 1 NEWS that they had received a call from Ms Kavanagh "in relation to a sighting of what they believed was a large cat".

"We have previously received calls over the years about similar sightings," the spokesperson said.

"MPI has investigated many photographs, footprints and hair, scat and faeces samples, and in each of those previous cases, we have concluded the sighting to be that of a large feral cat."

Ms Kavanagh said she understands some people will be skeptical, but she considers herself a "straight up and down" person and said anyone who knows her and how she does business will attest to that.

"This is the reality - this is what we saw," Ms Kavanagh said.

"This was no feral cat and that's a fact - it was a big animal.

"We were close to it - there is no doubt in my mind, it's 110 per cent - this was from the large cat family.

"This is a puma - there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is what it was."


April 2019 - Kevin Cook and his partner spot a large cat-like creature in the Burkes Pass area near State Highway 8.

December 2017 - British tourist Nick Baggott spots and photographs a large dark-coloured cat near Lake Tekapo.

September 2016 - Ange Montgomery spots a large black panther-like creature near her property in Eiffelton.

October 2013 - A delivery driver reports seeing a large black "panther" feeding on road kill outside Fairlie in the early hours of the morning.

August 2011 - Videographers Geoff Mackley and Bradley Ambrose film what they described as an unusually large cat near Kaikoura.

May 2009 - A farmer shoots video of a large cat, claiming to have seen a puma on a North Canterbury farm.

October 2003 - Truck driver Chad Stewart reports seeing a huge black cat in the Mayfield foothills.

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