The Great Panther Mystery

by Rex Gilroy

Australasian Post, July 25, 1985

The Great Panther Mystery

An Air of mystery pervades the sleepy little community of Kangaroo Valley, nestled in the southern highlands inland from Nowra on the New South Wales coast.

It is a mystery which has persisted thereabouts since before Europeans first settled the valley and it shows no signs of abating. The mystery concerns hundreds of sightings of often large, black-furred cat-like animals which have been known for generations as the "Kangaroo Valley panther." Periodic stock losses are often blamed on the "panther" by farmers, many of whom carry guns while they are alone working in remote paddocks.

It seems that just about every person in the valley has some personal experience with the "panther". They mystery has held my attention for the past 16 years. In June, 1981, I found my first paw prints of the "panther" on a remote farm near the southern end of the valley. It was during this expedition that I got my only sighting of one of the creatures.

On the afternoon of June 9, 1981, my wife Heather and I were driving to a farm, owned by a woman who had several experiences with "creatures" on her property. On one occasion the woman saw a large cat-like black-furred animal leap over the back fence. That night, torch in hand, I went alone to investigate the paddock over the fence. The time was 8.20 p.m. when some distance away, I heard aloud cat-like screech.

I then heard sounds of something climbing through wire on a fence bordering a creek about 180 metres away, followed by the sounds of snapping twigs as something moved quickly into scrub in the paddock. Switching on my torch, I spotted about 160 metre's away, standing among a clump of gum trees, a blackish creature at least a metre tall on all fours. Its silvery eyes glowed in the torchlight. Nothing had ever frightened me in the bush before in my life.

Yet on this one occasion a fear of thee unknown gripped me. I retreated to the gate, I turned to find the creature had vanished. We all kept a watch late into the night hoping the animal would return but it did not. However, two weeks later, in a small muddy patch of ground down the far end of the paddock I found several strange paw prints. From these, we made plaster casts. They were 24 cm apart and measured up to 15 cm in length by 13 cm width across the claws.

The animal who left them must have been large, at least the size of the creature I had seen in the paddock earlier that month. University experts in Sydney later said the tracks belonged to "no known Australian animal." What then is the "Kangaroo Valley Panther"? Many rangers and zoologists are convinced the creatures are only feral cats. They point out that feral cats develop from unwanted domestic cats dumped in the scrub by their owners.

They survive by killing our native wildlife, their offspring developing stronger leg muscles and larger claws for climbing trees, increasing in body size as well. Some feral cats shot by farmers have reached lengths of more than 1.1 metres. However, a comparison of feral cat tracks with those of the larger "panther" show that this creature is no feline. In fact, some eyewitnesses have claimed to have seen "panthers" carrying pouched young.

If so, it is obvious that we are dealing with some hitherto unknown species of giant marsupial cat. Perhaps it is related to the extinct marsupial lion {Thylacoleo carnifex} which roamed Australia during the last ice-age, at least 12,000 years ago. And "panthers" are by no means confined to Kangaroo Valley. They have been reported seen for generations throughout the rugged eastern Australian mountain ranges, Victoria to far north Queensland; as well as other areas in the Northern territory, South Australia and Western Australia, and the Aborigines have known of these animals for thousands of years.

The "panthers" tend to keep clear of man, inhabiting the remoter mountainous regions where they prey upon native fauna , leaving their natural habitat only in time of drought, when a decline in the native animal population forces them on to remote farming properties in search of domestic stock.

In 1975 at Nowra, a farmer on the edge of dense scrub saw at a distance, a "panther" leap out of a tree on to the back of a horse. By the time the horse fought off its attacker, the large black-furred creature left scratch marks on the horse's flank.

In 1980, another large "panther-like" animal was sighted in the same district one day dragging off a sheep it had killed. The Twin Pines area of Kangaroo Valley is often, frequented by rabbit shooters. During September, 1982, two young men, in late afternoon light, spotted a black-furred, "cat-like"animal about 1.1 metres in length from head to tail, standing about 50 cm tall on all fours. It moved off into dense scrub before they could get closer.

During April, 1981, a whole family got a good look at one of these "panthers" on a property near the western side of the valley. Two boys and their parents were standing among trees on the edge of a large paddock when they spotted a large black animal moving through tall grass. As they watched, the creature, which appeared two metres in length from head to tail, appeared to lope across the paddock, stopped, then looked in their direction. By this time the father had dashed off to the family car nearby for his binoculars.

"The animal had a cat-like, yet dog-like body appearance about it, with pricked ears. Its large head looked dog-like but the sleek black fur which covered the animal's body made it look similar too a panther. It had a long tail which did not appear to wag. We were about 360 metres from the animal. It then dashed off across the paddock heading for a dry creek bed and vanished quickly," the father told me later.

In another incident in September, 1981, a hiker Charles Long of Sydney, saw two panther-like animals lying side by side. When they spotted him they dashed off in different directions. In one 1980 incident, many townspeople saw a "panther" lope across grassy fields behind the shopping centre. For a few days thereafter several more sightings were reported from locals.

One young woman on horseback found the remains of a sheep wedged high up in tree branches, apparently carried there by one of these creatures. If, as I maintain, we are in fact dealing with a large still unknown species of giant marsupial cat related to the Thylacoleo, then we can cancel out the "panther" feral cats theory. Undoubtedly, feral cats make up a large percentage of Kangaroo Valley "panther" reports but a comparison of physical descriptions and plaster cast tracks of the "panther" certainly distinguish these creatures from any feral cat.

On the evening of December 2 last year, farmer Keith Adams watered the garden next to his house, overlooking a densely wooded gully. That night, about 1 a.m. he heard a noise which made him get out of bed to look outside, but he did not see anything. The next morning he discovered that something had attempted to lift the strong metal lids on two garbage tins. In his garden he found a large number of strange paw prints. A plaster cast of a single track measured 8 cm wide by 11 cm in length. There was a distance of 40 cm between the paw prints. The depth of the paws in the moist soil suggested the animal weighed around 87 kg. When I visited Keith a few days after his discovery and obtained the paw print I was able to match it with those found by me in the Valley in 1981.

After many years researching the "panther" and having studied the many hundreds of reports of sightings from over a wide area of Australia, there is no doubt in my mind of the existence of a still unidentified species of giant marsupial cat, and that a large number of these animals inhabit the rugged bushland surrounding the Kangaroo Valley farmlands.