Gary Anderson was looking forward to coming back home to see some sights he hadn’t seen in a long time.
What he’ll likely remember most about his latest visit was seeing something he had never expected to witness in his life.
Anderson and his wife, Margaret, had been visiting the Meadows and Gillams area of the Bay of Islands and returned back to Ontario Thursday morning. As they turned off the Trans-Canada Highway into the Deer Lake Regional Airport access road at around 8:45 a.m., Margaret spied something on the side of the road about 50 metres ahead.
She told him it must be the large black, panther-like cat they had heard about in the local news during their visit home.
“It was just lying there, just inside the guardrail,” Anderson told The Western Star from Halifax, where the couple were switching planes on their journey home later Thursday.
Anderson, who had driven just past the animal, said he backed up to get a photo of it. Before he could get the shot, though, a car coming in the opposite direction passed them and startled the animal.
“It just jumped up and took off into the bushes,” said Anderson, who was unable to get any images of the beast.
Anderson said the cat was about the size of a German shepherd dog, was pure black and had a long tail.
Remembering the public cautions issued a week earlier, he immediately reported what he saw to airport security. The airport then notified the Town of Deer Lake, which posted a warning on its Facebook site for people to be aware of a possible wild cat sighting in the area.
It was the second such warning the municipality felt compelled to make in the last week after two women reported seeing a similar animal while walking in the Glide Brook Road area Oct. 1.
Damon Clarke, the Town of Deer Lake’s economic development officer and town planner, is the person who posted both public advisories. He said the town had to think long and hard about making such an alarming public statement without any solid physical evidence to support the claims, but eventually decided to err on the side of caution.
“We were very wary of putting this out there because of the reaction it might get,” said Clarke. “We expected a fair bit of ridicule from people who didn’t think there was any truth to what was being reported and we saw that reaction. But, we thought public safety may be a bigger issue.”
There is a popular walking trail that courses through the woods between the airport and Route 430. Clarke said, if there is a large wild cat in the area, people using this trail need to be aware.
Other than the lynx, there are no big wild cats native to the island of Newfoundland. That has not stopped multiple people from reporting sightings of large animals that resemble black panthers or brownish cougars in recent years.
As in previous reports of large wild cats being reported, the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources was notified and was looking into Thursday’s report. As of deadline Thursday, the department had no response to its investigation into the latest report.