Rash of ‘panther’ sightings is starting to irritate Australian wildlife experts
‘People need to get over the idea the cats are panthers – it is just not on,’ says Perth wildlife ranger
A large cat in Western Australia that was mistaken for a panther is the latest in a long line of mythical big cat sightings that wildlife rangers say are unhelpful.
The large black feline – estimated to be 50 per cent larger than a house cat – was spotted in the town of Coorow, 275km north of Perth, in late June, and reported to wildlife authorities as a potential panther or big cat.
But local wildlife ranger Tim Gilbertson told the ABC he was getting sick of panther reports.
“People need to get over the idea the cats are panthers,” he said. “It is just not on. They are big feral cats, at least 50 per cent bigger than a house cat and they are powerful.”
Gilberston believes that mistaking cats for panthers detracts from the fight against feral cats, which cover 99 per cent of the Australian continent and kill 1 million native birds a night.
“If you are getting larger cats, you have to ask what they are eating,” he said. “They are eating native animals.”
Dr Aaron Greenville, from the University of Sydney’s school of life and environmental science, analysed the picture of the Coorow feline and said it was a cat.
“You can see it’s an obvious cat,” he said. “It’s a bit larger than usual, but the general body shape, particularly round the head, doesn’t really show any signs of a panther.”
The sighting of the “Coorow panther” follows many big cat sightings across Australia, where panther myths and urban legends have been a part of life for years.
In June, a teenage boy in Queensland claimed he discovered what he described as a 1.25-metre-long panther in his driveway in Glenwood on the Fraser Coast.
He told news.com.au that “quite honestly, I s**t myself” upon discovering the creature.
In New South Wales, the Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and Lithgow area is home to the legend of the Lithgow panther, with 560 people reporting sighting the mythical feline since 1998.
The UK is also plagued by reports of big cats: from the Beast of Bodmin Moor, said to stalk the moors of Cornwall, and the Beast of Buchan in Scotland to the Surrey puma and the Cotswolds big cat, which killed and ate a deer in 2012.
Greenville said despite the Australian love of panther myths, all these sightings were probably cats.
“Cats in general can range in size quite a lot, and feral cats can get quite big as well. People are used to seeing a very small subset of domestic cats around their neighbourhood and one that comes out of the ordinary that is bigger than usual, maybe confusion can get in.”
Even if its size is to be believed, the Coorow panther is unlikely to be longer than Omar, the 120cm, 14kg house cat from Melbourne, who claims to be the world’s longest cat.