People report large black cat sightings on peninsula

Aaron Beswick abeswick@northernpen.ca
Published on January 27, 2009

Marina Ploughman knows what she saw - people can say what they want.

Port au choix - Marina Ploughman knows what she saw - people can say what they want.

"Well my dear, I definitely saw one," said the Port au Choix senior. "It was all black, jet, jet black. My first instinct was it's a domestic cat gone wild."

But it was too big - the animal she remembers seeing near Whaleback Pond on the road behind Hawkes Bay last July had a body (from neck to rear) 3.5 feet long with a 4.5 foot tail. She estimates it crossed 50 feet in front of her on the road she's been driving to her cabin for 30 years.

"It just strutted right across the road in front of me - its paws were just awesome to see spread out on the road. And its teeth, big fangs," she said.

Ploughman thinks she saw a black panther - the same animal Springdale area residents reported seeing last fall. Black panthers can be any one of a number of subspecies, but in North American it's mainly used in reference to cougars. While the species was never native to Newfoundland, genetic work has proven some may still survive in New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec.

"The description you have is not bad," said Dr. Alistair Bath of Memorial University's geology department. "They're about waist height and the long tail is usually a giveaway.

However, due to there not having been a known introduction of cougars to Newfoundland or a native population, he finds their existence on the island "near impossible.

"It would have to be from Quebec where we're only saying there may be a couple," said Bath. "Whether anyone had pets that have been released would be the only possibility. Maybe the story here is to keep your eyes open and an open mind to looking for further evidence. As a scientist, I'm always interested in what is out there."

Some investigation, however, revealed Ploughman isn't the only person between Rocky Harbour and St. John Bay to believe they've spotted a black panther. Parsons Pond trapper Earl Keough can quickly list off three people who have told him they've spotted one. As well, he believes he's heard one.

"It sounded as though some woman was getting pulled by her hair," said Keough of the call he heard one evening as he was sat down with fellow hunters in the woods. "All the hair stood up on my head and the fellow that was with us said, 'I didn't know you have cats - that's a cougar'."

Bath confirmed that a cougar's call is most often compared to a woman screaming.