Within the field of enigmatic creatures such as Bigfoot, the Yeti from Nepal, and the Loch Ness Monster from Scotland, is the rumour of Australia’s, and more importantly the south east region's, large, elusive and commonly out of focus Black Panther cryptid. With a flourish of people now putting us into the categories - Are you a believer or a non believer?
In reference to how the animal came to be in Australia, stories are circulating of a circus going bankrupt and releasing all their animals into the wild. Others claim that following WW2, the Americans brought the Black Panthers to Australia as mascots.
Recently the Goulburn Post ran a story of the ambiguous Black Panther, giving many members from the community the confidence to come forward and speak about their own experiences with the alien big cats.
Soon after, I received word that a prominent investigative journalist from Sydney was visiting the Yass Valley, after a member of the Yass community had reported to have seen the animal three times over the last couple of weeks. Why the community member contacted a famous reporter as opposed to the Yass Tribune is as alluding as the myth itself!
Putting my investigative hat on, I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. I placed a message on Facebook asking any community members to come forward that had recently spotted the creature. Amongst the barrage of football and cute black cat references, were a few of notice. Residents claiming to have seen these big cats (yes plural!) for years. One of note was a woman and husband claiming to have run one over with their car a couple of years back, and was in possession of two of the animal's teeth.
My excitement was palpable, my two colleagues looked on at me, one with apprehension, the other with hopeful certainty. I was determined to uncover the mystery, to find the story and prove once and for all this was not a farce.
I knew this was going to be my pulitzer.
I jumped in my car to drive the half hour to their property. They were eager to show me, thrusting them into my outstretched palm. I was an instant believer! One tooth was four centimetres long and the other just over an inch. The couple described the cat as big as a labrador with a flat, pug sort of face and there was more than just the one. They told me that they had discarded the body because of the stench and had no photos because it was before the I-phone era. The couple said they found the teeth close to where they had hit the animal.
I took my photographic evidence back to office to then send away to the appropriate experts. After spending the weekend in nail-biting anticipation, the reply came early Monday morning.
‘Dear Jessica, are you sure these are teeth, they look like a tigers claw.’
A blow, I thought, however still hopeful that they may still have some connection to the beast.
I hesitantly replied, could they possibly be a claw from a Kangaroo? His response came fast; ‘Oh yes, I didn’t think of that, that’s quite possibly the answer.’ In the end I couldn't verify one way or another.
Although there was no certainty that the advice that I received was 100 percent correct, or whether perhaps the couple had been able to acquire the teeth from the animal they had actually hit in their driveway, or if those who had seen the animal over the last few years had a camera on them that had the correct focus.
Regardless of the many ‘what if’s’, and the great disappointment in being unable to solve the mystery, at least I have learnt some great lessons in responsible journalism. I hope one day that the mystery will be revealed, on the other hand, there’s a sense of inscrutable excitement in the unknown, having our very own cryptid.
Until further notice, keep an eye on your children and your cattle!