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Eukey Panther mystery

STUFFED: Stanthorpe taxidermist Mario Pennisi with one of the animals he has shot which he thinks people mistake for the Eukey Panther.
STUFFED: Stanthorpe taxidermist Mario Pennisi with one of the animals he has shot which he thinks people mistake for the Eukey Panther. Dane Lillingstone

EVERY now and then a community encounters something that cannot be explained and the Granite Belt is no different.

For years farmers, passers-by and local residents have reported sightings of a large wild black cat or according to legend, the "Eukey Panther".

John and Judy McNiven live at Eukey and a few years ago they took photos of something they can't quite explain.

"It was probably around 11.30am and it was 10 years ago this month," John said.

"Judy spotted it first at the sink. There were a pair of them. Two identical black cats out near the vegie patch. They stopped at a distance of about 70 metres. They were playing with each other. We didn't know whether to grab the gun or the camera."

John and Judy describe the animals as having "cat like" movements but that they were much larger than any regular cat.

"I wouldn't have gone around and said they were panthers but I would certainly say they were very large cats," John said.

"I've trapped wild cats before and I've never had a cat approaching that size."

Reports of sightings such as the Eukey Panther are not rare, in fact the phenomenon of these large cat actually have a name "phantom cats" or "Alien Big Cats".

They are reportedly large felines similar to jaguars, cougars and leopards, which appear outside of their naturally known habitat.

Sightings have been made right across Australia, commonly along the Great Dividing Range and the south-west of Western Australia.

"We did a lot of research after we saw them. Apparently a lot of people have seen them," Judy said.

"There's lot history, people have been seeing them for a long time, they must be somewhere. There's a lot of food and a lot of territory for them to exist without them being seen.

"You do see feral cats out here, that wasn't what these were."

John was less sceptical.

"They're probably cats that have gone wild and over several generations just gotten bigger and bigger," he said.

 

 

This photo, taken by John and Jody McNiven, could be the Eukey Panther.
This photo, taken by John and Jody McNiven, could be the Eukey Panther.

 

For those who think these sightings are pure fantasy, think again.

It was revealed in 2001, through a Freedom of Information request, that the New South Wales Government had been maintaining a file on big cat sightings. Further to this, in 2003 a NSW state inquiry concluded that "it is more likely than not" that "big cats" were roaming in the outskirts of the state.

Wildlife experts even commissioned an expert to examine the evidence.

Dr Johannes Bauer investigated and concluded: "Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation of the evidence... is the presence of a large feline predator."

There are a few theories on how the cats originated in Australia including that they are descendants of the puma, brought to Australia during the gold rush in the 19th century by American miners, that they were left by travelling circus acts, and that American soldiers smuggled them into the country during the Second World War.

Stanthorpe taxidermist Mario Pennisi has shot large feral cats and claims they are what people are seeing.

"The stories I used to hear years ago, when I was in my 20s, they used to call it the Sugarloaf Panther and residents in the Sugarloaf area often saw it," he said.

"They always used to talk about this black panther but when I used to go out shooting, all you used to see where these big black feral cats."

Mario has shot two giant cats in his life, including the one pictured and he doesn't buy into the Eukey Panther myth.

"It's been a few years since I've seen a feral cat now. Back in those days a lot of people used to dump cats.

"They are just feral cats that have adapted to living in the bush and have grown bigger because they're hunters now and aren't being fed out of a bowl."

Last week the Stanthorpe Border Post received a call of a sighting of "a large black cat" running across the road at Eukey.

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