Canterbury mystery: Is it a cat or is it a panther?

Canterbury’s big cat mystery has deepened after another sighting of an animal that may be a cat or may be a panther cub.

Social influencer Bare Kiwi, aka Kyle Mulinder, has caught the black animal on video while interviewing double-amputee Everest mountaineer Mark Inglis in the Hanmer Springs Heritage Forest.

“It was about 50 metres away, strolling in the other direction but it sat down, turned and looked into my soul,” Mulinder said in a statement released by Visit Hurunui.

“It was a very emotional experience. I was fearing for my life – it was a very close call.”

Asked to describe the beast, he said it was about the size of a large house cat.

“That means it’s likely to be a panther cub as opposed to a panther – it was hard to tell. Because I was shaking and scared and only had an iPhone, the footage is not great,” he said.

Inglis is quoted as saying he thought Mulinder was pulling his leg.

“But I looked and there it was – my first thought was ‘if that’s the cub, how big is the mother?’,” he said.

The report is the latest of a series of reported sightings of big black cats in various parts of the South Island.

Otago University zoology professor Yolanda van Heezik said last week that the sightings were completely legitimate, though it was “extremely unlikely” that we have panthers or pumas living in New Zealand.

“We should believe their eyes. What they are talking about is seeing a really large black cat and that is what they are seeing,” she said.

“People sometimes have this misconception that feral cats are scrawny but that isn’t always the case.”

Inglis works for Hurunui Trails, which creates and maintains the mountain bike and walking tracks in the forest, and is quoted as saying the sight of the cat has “made him think twice”.

“I certainly won’t go into the forest after dark any more,” he said.

But Hurunui Tourism marketing manager Shane Adcock said the forest was still
a safe place for visitors.

“The footage is pretty poor so it is hard to ascertain whether it is a feline or a walking blob,” he said.

“But to be safe, we’ve alerted local police and will consider whether to nominate Bare Kiwi and Mark Inglis for a bravery award.

“On Monday, we’ll discuss whether to ask Dr Ashley Bloomfield to assess the risk to public health, but we’re confident visitors to the forest will be safe over the weekend.”

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