PEOPLE from across the region have recently shared their panther sighting stories, however it’s possible they’ve spotted an elusive – but destructive – feral cat.
Tamworth WIRES coordinator David McKinnon said it was shocking how large a wild cat could grow.
“They tend to double is size, which is without a doubt extraordinary, but it does happen,” Mr McKinnon said.
“If you get a jet black one in the right light, I think it could be easy to mistake it for a panther.
“I’ve caught one in a cat trap – a fairly large cat trap – and it was so big it couldn’t turn around. It was a monster. It made me realise how big they can get.”
Mr McKinnon said the domestic cat had “the ability to revert very quickly”, particularly within a couple of generations, similar to the way pigs turn in to boars when released in to the wild.
“They live in dens and they’re master hunters at night, which is why you don’t see them,” he said.
“After a couple of generations in the wild, they’re highly sensitive to people, and are usually gone well before they can be spotted.
“When they revert back to the wild they get this extraordinary camouflager colour, which makes them very difficult to spot.”
Despite being shy, Mr McKinnon said feral cats “demolish native animals”, and also urged domestic cat owners to keep their pets inside at night.
“Australian wildlife never evolved defences against feral or domestic cats, so they are just such easy prey,” he said.
“At night, that’s when the cat has a lot of power. Birds will not fly off their roost, so cats just need to climb up there and grab it.”
“If people see feathers around the yard, it would be a good time to get a cat trap, and take it too the pound. They’ll figure out if its a domestic or wild cat when they check the microchip.”
Mr McKinnon said keeping domestic cats inside at night also kept them safe from the diseases carried by feral cats.
“Feral cats often have what’s called the feline AIDS virus,” he said.
“Those wild cats are more likely to be out at night, and possible spread it to pet cats.
“If you keep your pet inside at night, it’s not eating wildlife and your protecting it from disease.”