Editorial: Mystery of the panther

HAVE YOU SEEN IT? A large black panther-like animal has been seen in the Mackenzie District.
HAVE YOU SEEN IT? A large black panther-like animal has been seen in the Mackenzie District.

Look, a panther. Let's shoot it.

The elusive large cat that was the cause of much media attention around Mid-Canterbury a couple of years back may have made its way into our patch, with one of the Herald's own delivery drivers spotting something very panther-like on his early morning run near Fairlie a week ago.

It was black, more than a metre long, had a long tail and gave a deep throaty growl.

But the driver didn't want us to print his name because, well, people might think he was nuts. As in: "You saw a panther near Fairlie? You're nuts."

Which is actually a problem. Because many people may in fact have seen this animal but been reluctant to say anything. Your normal reticent Kiwis, in other words.

But if they had come forward, we might have a clearer picture of this unusual story.

In the last week the Fairlie report has flushed out a couple of other sightings, including one a few days before between Cave and Cannington, from someone who also didn't want to be named.

Two who have been prepared to be named include hunter Nicol Brown, who recalled seeing a shiny black panther-like animal at the back of Burkes Pass more than two years ago; and on this page today Matt Rainey recounts seeing something similar in 2006-07 at the southern end of the Hakataramea Valley. His son also saw it.

If this is the same animal it's been around.

In 1992 it was spotted at the Ashburton River mouth, and around Lake Clearwater. In 1996 a large black cat was seen near Twizel, but in 2000 it was back in Mid-Canterbury, near Alford Forest, and a couple of years after that in the Ashburton Gorge. In '03 it was in the Mayfield foothills and near the Fairton meatworks and in '04 in Seafield and Pendarves. Then we have the '06-'07 sighting in the Haka, the 2011 one at the back of Burkes Pass and now the Fairlie one.

There may be more than one animal.

So what do we know for sure? That many people have seen something unusual. That it's bigger than a normal cat, has a long tail and is black. But that's about it. No-one has reported losing a panther (as if you would), there haven't been reports of stock mauled by something with big claws, no-one has tracked it or preserved footprints or faeces, and while there are some photos none provide absolute proof.

The real question here is if there is a panther out there, what should be done about it?

Shoot it? That seems wrong, given it hasn't done anything to anyone that we know of.

No, better to preserve the mystique, and wonder where it might pop up next.

Be sure to let us know though.

The Timaru Herald