Big cat mystery: ‘Very daunting’ fresh sighting in Canterbury’s Hanmer Springs

There has been another sighting of a ‘big cat’ in Canterbury – this time in Hanmer Springs.

Over the years there have been reported sightings of big cats in Canterbury, Otago, Southland and Marlborough and in North Canterbury last month.

Mark Orr was mountain biking through Hanmer Forest Park in Hanmer Springs on Sunday with one other person when he spotted the animal.

“We had to pick our bikes up and lift them over a fallen tree. That’s when we saw [the cat] up about 50m ahead.”

Orr said the animal turned back to look at them before turning around and heading deeper into the forest.

“It looked very strong and was quite stocky. It just had an aura about it. When it looked back at us we could hardly see its face because it was jet black.”

Orr said he is convinced the animal was not a dog.

“It was definitely not a dog and I have never seen a cat this big. It was about knee height.”

After spotting the animal, the pair decided to quickly turn back not wanting to get any closer.

“It was a long way away at that point but still very daunting.”

There has been a re-emergence of reported sightings of big black cats in recent months.

A sighting was reported at the Halswell Quarry last month followed by another in Heathcote Valley.

A number of reasons have been given over the past decades to explain why or how the big cat is in Canterbury.

Following a sighting in Christchurch, an older man recalled an incident from when he’d been working at the port in Lyttelton during World War I

In 1915 a ship from America was being unloaded. On board the ship was a cargo of animals bound for Australia.

One of the cages was accidentally broken open, allowing its occupant, a pregnant female puma, to escape. It was last seen running towards the Port Hills.

Apparently, officials made little attempt to catch the cat and it seems likely that no search was conducted.

A close-up sighting of a large cat by Kaiapoi resident Frances Clark created national headlines in July 1977.

It was thought a tiger might have escaped from Orana Wildlife Park in nearby Harewood, or from the circus that had been in the area a week earlier.

The search found no trace, and all cats from the zoo and circus were accounted for.

Other New Zealand animal mysteries:

• Moose in Fiordland. The last proven sighting was in 1952 but that has not stopped believers. Hair found in the area that came back from DNA testing in 2002 was confirmed as coming from a moose

• South Island Kōkako. A $10,000 reward remains unclaimed after three years, with still no confirmation of the songbird which was declared extinct in 2008. More than 200 possible encounters have been reported but the bird known as the ‘Grey Ghost’ remains elusive.

• Moa. The search for the long-necked bird is still continuing to this day after a number of sightings over the years. One location they are thought to be is remote bush in northernmost Hawke’s Bay after about 35 footprints were found on the ground ten years ago.

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