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Two independent sightings of mystery South Island panther within days and 20km of each other

Two new independent sightings of the infamous South Island panther have been reported within a few days of each other in the high country - and just a few kilometres apart.

Many people have reported seeing a very large exotic cat - described as either a puma or a panther - in the South Island over the past few decades, but official agencies say there is still no proof of any large exotic cats.

In April, Picton woman Juliarna Kavanagh and partner Warren Lewis of Picton became the latest to report a sighting, and following publication of that story, numerous Kiwis told 1 NEWS they have seen the same thing.

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

Now, two new sightings have been independently reported within a week of each other, and within a 20km area.

The first sighting took place on September 7 at Eyre Creek, near Athol, on State Highway 6 between Queenstown and Te Anau.

The second was on September 12 about 20km north of there, just south of Kingston.

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'A BLOODY BIG ANIMAL'

Darryl Butson of Invercargill had come up to Eyre Creek to do some four-wheel driving with his two daughters on September 7, and was driving up a hill at low speed when his daughters noticed a large, black creature on the hillside and started calling out to him to come and look.

"We were climbing up a hill at the time and I couldn't just stop, so the kids were watching it as I was heading up, and when I got to the top of the track I stopped and basically saw the end of it," Mr Butson said.

He watched the animal at a distance of about 100 metres for between three and four seconds as it walked into the brush.

"It was a reasonably solid sort of body on it, I'd say it was the size of a full grown black lab, maybe a wee bit bigger," he said.

"If it was domestic cat that's overgrown, it's been on some good steroids.

"The tail looked to be about 600mm or 700mm long - maybe bigger."

Domestic cats typically have tails about 300mm long, with the world record for the longest domestic cat tail standing at 446mm.

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

Mr Butson said he was well accustomed to the bush and has seen numerous feral cats - but this was not one of them.

"I've seen nothing like it - I've spent all my life up that valley and I've done a lot of hunting all through there, I've walked a lot of it," he said.

"Some of the feral cats can be quite large, but this was out of the ordinary - this was flamin' huge - big, solid body on it."

SECOND SIGHTING REPORTED WITHIN A WEEK

1 NEWS was also contacted independently by an American tourist who said he had seen something similar five days later on September 12, just 20km north, near Kingston.

John Dour of Virginia was driving north on State Highway 6 about 8.15pm with two friends in the car, when he noticed something on the eastern side of the road ahead.

State Highway 6 south of Kingston and north of Fairlight. Source: Google

"The first thing I saw were the two sets of eyes, both kind of close to each other but very distinguishable that they were separate, at slightly differing eye levels," he said.

"At first I thought they were some kind of reflective road sign or equipment because of how reflective and bright they were, but they definitely were not.

"They were pretty close to the road - I would say less than 20 feet off the side of the road.

Mr Dour said he was "90 per cent sure" there were two sets of bright yellow eyes but as he approached he turned his head and saw only one - very large - animal.

"Its body was mostly a silhouette, but still partially illuminated by the headlights and thus identifiable," Mr Dour said.

"It was standing parallel to the road so when I turned my head sideways I got a good profile look at it.

"One of the things that struck me most was about how upright the cat that I saw was - it very noticeably had broad shoulders, upright legs, and thick paws.

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

"I would estimate it was three feet tall and my best guess for the weight would be about 100 lbs (45kg). It had a far bigger head than a domestic cat.

"Very pronounced, outward, glowing yellow eyes, slightly perked ears, head up and looked very inquisitive and attentive. It didn’t flinch as we drove past.

"It had a far bigger head than a domestic cat - I would say decently-sized, more rounded and upright ears - very stereotypically big-cat-like ears that made me certain it wasn’t some other type of animal like a dog."

Mr Dour said he was shocked by what he saw, as he didn't think any big cats lived in New Zealand, and soon after he had one of his companions research it online, and came across a 1 NEWS article from earlier this year.

"I have seen big cats in person in zoos in the US like lions and tigers - the cat I saw wasn’t as big a lion or tiger, but my first thought was mountain lion/cougar/puma, which I am familiar with," he said.

He said he was "extremely" confident that it was not a large feral cat.

"I have seen feral cats before and I know that it was far bigger ... it was much longer and much more upright and tall."

DOC: IT COULD HAVE BEEN A LARGE POSSUM

Department of Conservation operation manager for Wakatipu Geoff Owen confirmed that Mr Dour had reported the sighting to DOC that night.

"We have received a report of a large animal sighting in the Kingston area," he said.

"Without seeing any photos or other evidence that could point to the creature’s identity we can really only speculate on what it was, however it’s possible that it could have been a farm animal, large possum or simply a really, really big cat.

Possum standing on a branch at night. Source: istock.com

"This is the first time a big cat/possible panther has been reported in the area to my knowledge."

A composite image of a black leopard (panther) with a Google Map showing the area around Kingston and Fairlight on State Highway 6. Source: Creative Commons/Rute Martins of Leoa's Photography/Google Maps/1 NEWS Composite