Sceptic, believer or on the fence?

Ask the average Australian what they know about the legendary ‘black panther’, and some will confidently tell you it’s a load of crap - right up there with ‘drop bears’ and ‘hoop snakes’ - and so-called witnesses are liars and frauds or, even worse, mad.

For others, the question will give them pause - ‘didn’t the Americans leave behind some pumas or black panthers?’ they might say by way of reply, repeating a popular tale.

Some will go one step further - either they or someone they know have seen a large black cat firsthand, an experience they consider to be as confirming of the mystery as it is confounding. Which one are you?

Explore some of the other big cat theories by clicking on the buttons on the right-hand side.

Seen a big cat? Email the authors at

Is Thylacoleo carnifex, the marsupial lion, still with us? Judging by some of the accounts collected in Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, it could very well be.

The Thylacoleo carnifex is the closest thing we have to a home-grown ‘cat’. A vicious predator that could tackle prey more than twice its size, Thylacoleo carnifex was possibly a force to be reckoned with for early Aboriginal tribes.

Is there some way it could have survived to modern times? How else to explain several odd accounts of jet-black ‘possum-headed cats’ that frequent the tree-tops... a stealthy Pleistocene predator that is yet to be caught?

Military Mascots
It’s the story that has taken on urban myth status - the dumped animal mascots of American troops stationed in Australia during the 1940s, surviving, thriving and breeding in the bush.

The same story is echoed in New Zealand and the United Kingdom where it is one of the theories put forward to explain their sightings of large black cats.

Did American troops keep large exotic cats as mascots? We know they certainly adopted them as symbols for their unit emblems. Some overseas units took their morale-raising activities one step further and acquired a cub mascot to reflect their core values. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers has found there may be a grain of truth in that tale after all.

Circus or Zoo Escapes
Could sightings of large cats - which are often described as resembling melanistic (black) leopards or jaguars, or in some cases sandy-coloured pumas - be traced back to escaped circus animals or released exotic big cats?

There are certainly ample stories of circus and zoo escapes throughout Australia (including that of the St Arnaud puma, pictured above) - even as recently as 2009 - but do any of them hold the key? Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers has turned up some surprising information.

Giant Feral Cats
When Victorian hunter Kurt Engel shot this large black cat in 2005, and the DNA results came back Felis catus or domestic cat, it threw up an intriguing notion - that the so-called ‘panther’ could be a mutant feral cat.

Scores of Australian hunters have since come forward offering up their own photographs of incredibly large feral cats, begging the question - is the humble domestic cat the source of the sightings? Find out more in Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers.