MYSTERIOUS sightings of large black cats prowling the Perth Hills have resurfaced after a resident claims to have seen one of the elusive beasts in Chidlow earlier this month.
Mt Helena resident Lisa Speyer said she was picking up her son when she saw the big black cat.
“I’m not talking about a domestic size cat, I’m talking about panther size,” she said.
“It moved differently to a dog, was crouched like a cat and had distinctive eyes. In the 43 years I’ve lived in the Hills, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The sighting prompted a flood of residents to share their own glimpses of big cats in the region.
Swan Valley resident Vanessa Rickman said she saw a large black animal on Toodyay Road near Morangup.
“A massive black panther type cat appeared near a tree along the edge of a dam,” she said.
“It was huge. We’ve never moved so fast and got the hell out of there.”
Vaughan King, founder of the Australian Big Cat Research Group, said it was “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that big cats were in the Hills. Mr King said the Darling Scarp provided prime habitat not only for feral cats but big cats such as cougars and panthers.
He said documented sightings pointed to a healthy, established population of cougars and panthers, and possibly black leopards, surviving and thriving in outer lying areas of Perth, including Yanchep.
“The thick bush that covers the Hills would allow a population of big cats to live out its days relatively inconspicuously. It has the three main things a big cat needs to survive: prey, water and shelter,” he said.
Mr King said the big cats were likely descendants of escaped circus animals or US Navy mascots.
“I have spoken personally with a circus owner who admitted to my face that they had lost numerous species, including big cats, into the Australian bush over the years,” he said.
“Back in those days animal movements weren’t policed very well and if an animal was lost, more likely than not it was reported as deceased.”
While the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions would neither confirm nor deny the existence of big cats, naturalist Mike Griffths urged authorities to keep an open mind.
“There are loads of feral cats out there and some are huge, so you can’t blame authorities for being conservative when someone reports they have just seen a panther,” he said.
“But they do need to need to take note of sightings and the public need to document their evidence better.”
Mr King said there were far too many big cat sightings for it to be a case of mistaken identity.
Mr Griffiths said the bulk of descriptions from sightings in WA pointed to two different species of big cats.
“Robustly-built light brown animals seemed to be consistent with pumas, otherwise known as mountain lions or cougars, and more slender black animals are consistent with the leopard, which is the true black panther,” he said.
Mr Griffiths said he was not surprised there was no hard photographic evidence of big cats.
“Most cat species are highly secretive, solitary and largely nocturnal. Most sightings happen fast and it is incredibly difficult to get a reasonable photo,” he said.
Big cat sightings can be reported to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.bigcats.|com.au.