Big cat scare in Northland town

Last updated 00:31 29/06/2008
LAWRENCE SMITH/Sunday Times
QUARRY SIGHTING: Scott Parker points to where the "Lion" was spotted.

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Move over the Mid-Canterbury panther now it's the Northland "lion".

A giant wild cat described as possibly even a lion was seen by a firefighter and his son during an urban search and rescue exercise in a quarry at Kaiwaka, 90 minutes north of Auckland.

Kaiwaka Volunteer Fire Brigade chief fire officer John Bowmar began an investigation after the sighting about 5pm on May 29 during the exercise, which involved more than 100 firefighters, police, ambulance and search and rescue staff.

The pair saw "something rather large and unusual" about 30 metres away on the ridge of the Parker Lime Company quarry, Bowmar told Sunday News.

"It was not a sheep, it was not a dog it was a very large cat."

Bowmar said the fireman and his teenage son were "not idiots".

His investigation led him to another local, now a minister, who made a similar sighting in the area about a decade ago.

"I made discreet inquiries and I come up with this guy (the minister) and he's no idiot," Bowmar said.

"(He) saw it years ago, he was out duck shooting. It was a huge cat, he said. It was a bloody big bastard.

"He said, `There was no point in me shooting it. I turned tail and ran."

Bowmar, in charge of the initial urban search and rescue exercise, had an open mind on the big-cat sighting.

"The way I see it, if one person saw it ... oh yeah, right. If two people see it ... well, yeah, maybe. Then a person saw it, or something, a few years ago ... you think, `Well?"'

Bowmar had been told the fireman reported the sighting to police because "if something happened, he would feel terrible" had he not acted.

Parker Lime Company quarry manager Scott Parker had been made aware of last month's sighting.

"They said it looked like a cat the size of a dog," Parker said.

He talked to staff, who thought it may be an extra-large feral cat a number of which prowled the bush around the quarry site.

"A guy that works here, his old man used to push stuff out in the bush and he said the big feral cats would come out and try to attack the bulldozer.

"This is probably 20 years ago," Parker said.

Zion Wildlife Gardens, home of TV star Craig "The Lion Man" Busch, is situated at Kamo 80km north of Kaiwaka.

But a woman Sunday News contacted there yesterday said: "We are not missing any cats at all. We've got them all here, all 42 (lions, tigers, cheetahs and a leopard)."

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There have been so many sightings of a mysterious "black panther" around Mid-Canterbury, a documentary was even made about it. In 2006, a Mount Somers woman said she saw a big black cat, the size of a five to seven-month old Labrador dog, drag a lamb across a paddock.

- Sunday News

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