8 Nov 2020

'People are really seeing these large South Island black cats'

From Sunday Morning, 10:34 am on 8 November 2020

There have been more reports of big cats in the South Island come in from Sunday Morning listeners - four people gave the programme varying accounts of sightings.

Yolanda van Heezik is a professor in the zoology department at Otago University and she says the sightings of these large black cats are completely legitimate, though it is "extremely unlikely" that we have panthers or pumas living in New Zealand.

For the penguins sake . . .  Reasearchers have suggested closing off beaches to allow penguins to breed in peace. Yolanda van Heezik with Sandfly bay in behind.


“We should believe their eyes, what they are talking about is seeing a really large black cat and that is what they are seeing.

“People sometimes have this misconception that feral cats are scrawny but that isn’t always the case.”

If you apply Ockham’s Razor, the likelihood of there being big cats in New Zealand is negligible, she told Jim Mora.

“No one’s ever caught one, no one’s ever got really good evidence that they are something different from just a large feral cat

“And there’s also a complete lack of evidence that is indirect like if you had a really big cat like that you would expect there to be more stock kills for example, but we don’t really have that evidence either.”

The sightings are genuine, she says.

“I’m not contesting that these are really large individuals, it’s just extremely unlikely that they’re not large feral cats.”

DOC has been tracking large swathes of the country for decades and turned up no evidence of big cats here, she says.

Animals can vary hugely in size within a particular species she says. Foxes being a good example ranging from 2kgs to 17kgs.

“That’s what’s happening probably with cats in New Zealand, they are in a place which is maybe cooler, so they are following this biological rule called Bergmann’s Rule where as you go into the higher latitudes where it’s cooler your body size tends to get bigger to save loss of heat because you are reducing your surface area to volume ratio

“But also, in New Zealand they have a large prey base of rabbits, they don’t have many competitors for their prey, they don’t have any predators themselves.

“You are seeing them reach their biological potential I suppose in terms of their size.”