A SENIOR state government scientist has dismissed a recent sighting of the so-called ‘Otway Panther’ by Perry Childs of Lorne and the CCTV footage he provided of the cat.
Inspecting vision taken from multiple cameras at Lorne’s Cumberland Resort in February this year, coupled with measurements of the cobbled path the cat is seen walking on, Peter Menkhorst said he believed the animal was not no unusual size.
“I estimate his height at around 40-45 centimeters… right in the middle of the size of a domestic cat; it’s not a big animal in my opinion,” said Mr. Menkorst, senior scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.
Mr Childs estimated he spent 5-10 minutes watching the cat from his third-floor balcony in the Cumberland as it wandered the street and square below him, later gathering footage CCTV footage of the building showing the cat.
“He was walking down the pavement at Mountjoy Parade and he passed the Telstra call box and past the bins and then I realized it was big,” he recalled.
“This is definitely not your ordinary house cat looking for some leftovers.
“It’s a cat, a big cat, and my firm belief is that it’s a panther.”
Mr Menkhorst disagreed, saying the animal “looked like a standard moggy to me”.
He and a colleague have previously investigated the presence of ‘big cats‘ in Victoria, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Lands, Water and Planning in 2012 to provide a report on the matter after multiple sightings and media coverage.
Tasked with reviewing “information relating to the possible presence in Victoria of a feral population of big cats“, the couple concluded that the available evidence was insufficient to establish that a feral population exists in the state.
“The absence of any formal evidence of a massive mammalian survey effort, using a wide range of techniques over several decades, strongly suggests that there is no wild population of ‘big cats’ and the he explanation for the many sightings is likely to involve large wild individuals of the domestic Felis Catus.
He provided the caveat that some evidence could not be dismissed entirely, including “preliminary DNA evidence, footprints and some behaviors which appear to be outside the known behavioral repertoire of known predators in Victoria”.
“Only primary evidence in the form of specimens of undisputed provenance, or DNA from sources of undisputed provenance, can establish, once and for all, that a ‘big cat’ population exists.
“High-quality photographs of proven provenance would also constitute compelling evidence.”
The images and the testimony of Mr. .
He described images of a black cat captured in the Otways by wildlife photographer Amber Noseda in 2020 as “pretty good…it shows the shape of the head and ears quite well”.
“What is interesting are the ears; they are quite sharp. They sit on top of the head, which is characteristic of a domestic cat, not a leopard or a puma – they have rounded ears and they sit lower on the side of the head.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a reasonably sized feral domestic cat.”
Mr Menkhorst is waiting for more conclusive evidence that “big cats” exist.
“What we really need are specimens; we need a farmer in his paddock to take him down and put him back so the scientists can look at him,” he said.
“Farmers are very good at protecting their herds from wild dogs, it is strange that no large specimens have ever been collected.”