Tracking down the Panther
Written by Editor John
October 13th, 2015
Panther-like big cats here in the Mountains? Surely not! Yet a string of people over the years insist they’ve seen or heard one.
The latest was a "sighting" at Glenbrook on April 27, 2017.
Digging into their stories proved intriguing for Michael Williams, a writer and photographer, and Rebecca Lang, a journalist who published a book Australian Big Cats – An Unnatural History of Panthers.
They report that big cat sightings are a problem in many rural areas around Australia with substantial stock losses in some; they describe their book as "a meaty compendium of sightings, killing sprees, narrow escapes, myths and mysteries that have come to form an intriguing chapter of Australian folklore."
A profusion of big-cat sightings in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury areas caused the NSW Government to initiate two official inquiries in 1999-2001 and 2008 that sparked much media attention, but yielded nothing.
The book's Blue Mountains chapter explores encounters with the Lithgow Panther, the Katoomba Lion and "the monster of Erskine Gap" — plus many others that have left those who reported them quite traumatised.
The Lithgow Mercury has documented many big cat sightings over the years — here's a sampling ...
Paul Vanstone - 2005 near the bottom of Scenic Hill:
"Whatever it was made my hair on the back of my neck stand on end — and it definitely wasn't a dog." The animal was "loping like the big cats you see at the zoo."
Josh Phipps, of Vale of Clywdd, in August, 2004:
Standing outside his home, he heard a noise "like the screech of big cats that I've seen at the zoo, but not like a lion's roar." He didn't see what made the noise, but the screech drove his dogs wild.
Phil Kellond and some friends spotted a "panther" sunning itself on the mountainside above Lithgow's Macauley and Laidley Streets intersection one Friday in June, 2004. The animal was "definitely a cat but as big as my German Shepherd ... it blew me out of my tree. I used to be a sceptic about the Lithgow Panther; now I'm a believer."
The authors apply a happy balance of open mindedness and skepticism to their wide research, but the nagging possibility persists: "The anecdotes and physical traces left behind certainly seem to point to something big, black and feline."
They even unearth an observation by the late Myles Dunphy, who explored the Blue Mountains wilderness as a bushwalker over many years and was instrumental in having it saved as national park:
"One thing is fairly obvious: this country is so enormous in extent, and many areas are so rugged that careful predators are able to roam about and subsist with little risk of being seen by people."
You'll need to read the book to canvas all the theories, including a possible link with the long presumed extinct marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex. Bear in mind that the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) — one of the world's oldest and rarest trees — was only discovered in this wilderness in 1994.
The book has generated wide interest since it was published in July - indexed in the National Library as: 'Panthers - Folklore - and - Animals - Mythology - Australia'. You can buy it at your favourite bookstore or directly from the book’s website. With such dedicated research and analysis, it’s definitely a recommended read.
In July 2013, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) commissioned
Kurahaupo Consulting in New Zealand to review the evidence for the existence of panthers and make appropriate recommendations based on that evidence. It noted that the Hawkesbury region west of Sydney and bordering the Blue Mountains has been a ‘hot-spot’ for reports of large cats. However, after extensive scientific research it reported:
"There is no conclusive evidence that large cats exist in the wild in NSW. The sightings and other evidence presented, mostly from the Hawkesbury region, are at best prima facie evidence."
Australian Big Cats – An Unnatural History of Panthers
Large free-ranging felines in New South Wales: a review