I have never had much time for stories of UFO sightings and such, particularly all the inconclusive, blurry photos. So it came as something of a surprise to find myself apparently in this position! It happened on the way out of the “Prom” on 10 July 1997. My wife Marilyn sighted a very large, black cat, which we were convinced was a panther. (The Prom is Wilson’s Promontory, a large wilderness National Park in Victoria, Australia, and the southernmost tip of Australia’s mainland – see more at the Parks Victoria site, parkweb.)
We had stopped the car at about five o’clock to let our two girls have a closer look at some kangaroos. Marilyn stayed in the car, and spotted an odd black shape up on the hill. After first thinking it was a wombat, she eventually realised it was the head of a large cat, looking out from the scrub. When I came back and had a look, I managed to get one photo, and walked a bit closer to get a second. With Marilyn and the girls asking me not to get too close, I just got a second photo of head and shoulders as the cat sat up, and started running.
Just in case it was me it was running at, I started running back to the car as well, accompanied by screaming from the girls. I saw enough to see a very sleek, black shape speeding into the undergrowth, and a very frightened rabbit running out the other side. The rest of the family saw the cat running just like a panther in a wildlife movie, then disappearing into the scrub.
Two days later, we took more photos of the spot with the National Parks staff, so some more accurate estimates of the size of our cat could be worked out. I can’t be sure if it is as big as we thought. (The man in the photo below would have been about 190 cm tall.) We were quite convinced that this was the panther that the photo appears to show, but I may well have been running from an over-grown house cat!
The text above was mostly quoted in an article about the event (Black Panther Sighting at the Prom) by Carole Williams in the local paper, The Foster Mirror, on 16 Jul 1997. We still can’t be sure of what we saw. The Rangers at the National Park, after scaling the photo, believe it was just a big feral cat. We still think that is was too big for a cat, but we are not taking the line that there is some sort of conspiracy to hide evidence of strange animals in Victoria’s National Parks.
There are no native big cats in Australia. The only native animal in that niche in recent years is the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger), a marsupial that has been officially extinct for some years, and had only been found in Tasmania since European settlement. However, there are also many reported sightings of thylacines both in Tasmania and on the mainland in recent times. Talking to some of the experts (the ones that don’t make a lot of fuss about this sort of thing), it appears that we have good reason to believe that what we saw was a small leopard or panther, based on the frequency of sightings in the area. Draw your own conclusion!
On 24 October 1999, The Foster Mirror ran a related article on Mystery kangaroo deaths at Prom. Apparently, “…about 15 dead kangaroos were found near the airstrip in the northern part of the National Park. Some had been torn apart and gutted while other bodies were not touched at all, just as if they had died of fright.” The “researcher” reporting this story believed that an “…unidentified predator is living in the park. Whether it is a panther or a Tasmanian tiger that is doing the killing is unknown.”
The Melbourne Herald Sun was keen to run our story, but the photo did not come out clearly enough for newsprint. The movie Alien Big Cats by Paw Productions was screened on SBS in Australia in April 1999. Our photo was included, with appropriate credits. The movie was nominated for “Best Music for a Documentary” at the 1998 Australian Guild of Screen Composers Screen Music Awards Nominations. It was shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival in 1998. The movie was available at the time from the international agents: Ray Atkinson Multi Media Marketing Ltd.
On 21 April 2010, I was advised by Rebecca Lang (in a comment below) that a book on Australian Big Cats has been published. I am not endorsing this book, but feel free to check it out on Amazon: Australian Big Cats.
Who ya gonna call?
My personal recommendation for the best place to report any sightings of unusual animals in Australia is via the Australian Rare Fauna Research Association (ARFRA) web site. To report a sighting, just fill in their form. From my experience, ARFRA seems to be a reputable and well-balanced organisation. Their founder Peter Chapple sadly passed away a few years ago, but when I last checked the organisation is still in operation (*updated 6 July 2009). Another suggestion is to contact your local zoo or National Parks office, or the animal control people at your local council.
Comments on this page
I receive a number of reports of sightings via comments on this page. Please note that I am generally unable to confirm or deny any of these reports. Due to the number of these comments, and the difficulty and time required to assess them, please note that I am now no longer posting reports of sightings on this page.
If you wish to report a sighting, please use the form on the ARFRA site as mentioned above.
Please bear in mind that I reserve the following rights regarding any comments submitted to this page:
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(Page first published 1998. Comments on this page dated prior to 2009 have been imported from earlier version.)
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