Recent reports of alleged big black cat sightings in western Newfoundland have Greg Patey feeling even more confident he saw the same sort of animal seven years ago.
Patey, a Northern Peninsula native now living in Corner Brook, was alone hunting moose on the Batteau Barren’s forest access road between River of Ponds and Bellburns in October 2010.
He drove up a steep grade to get a good look at a cutover below him when he noticed an animal on the edge of the woods. At first, he thought it must have been a moose, but then it moved across the cutover into clearer view.
“There was no trouble to see what it was,” Patey said in an interview Friday. “It had a long black tail and was cat-like in its motions. It was making big pounces and was moving very fast.
"It was very distinguishable and it freaked me out.”
Patey knew such an animal was not native to Newfoundland. He was surprised when he went home and told his father, who told him a local guide had also apparently seen a big black cat in the same woods not long before Patey did.
“I had never heard tell of anything like that until then,” he said. “I’ve heard many stories like it since. I know no one wants to believe in something that isn’t supposed to exist here, but I don’t know how you can have so many people with the same story and there not be some truth to it.”
Being by himself and it being late in the day, Patey went home from his hunt that evening. The next day, he and his mother returned to the site to see if there was any sign of the creature he had seen.
They found and photographed some paw prints Patey figured belonged to the animal he had seen the night before. It had rained the night before, so the quality of the prints weren’t the best, he said.
Patey said he notified wildlife officials about his encounter, but said no one seemed all that interested in his story or examining his photos. He posted them on Facebook and said he had many people contact him with either their own stories of black cats or an opinion on the prints.
In recent years, there have been a number of unconfirmed reports of black panthers or tan-coloured cougars from various parts of the island.
Since Oct. 1, two sightings of a large black cat have been reported in the Deer Lake area, prompting public advisories from the Town of Deer Lake and the Deer Lake Regional Airport.
Linda Roberts, one of the two women who reported the Oct. 1 sighting near Glide Brook Road, declined to do an interview about her experience but did express some thoughts via email. She figures the cat seen near Deer Lake airport this week, about five kilometres from where she saw one on the other side of town, is the same animal. She said efforts should be made to trap it and relocate it somewhere further from people.
“Hopefully, it will just continue on its way back into the forest without any incidence,” she wrote. “Although people have been reporting big cat sightings for a while on our island, no one has ever reported any harm done by these beautiful, elusive animals. I hope it stays that way.”
Patey also finds it worrisome that a sighting has been reported so close to a populated area.
Patey feels wildlife officials should set up live traps, or at least bait with motion-detection cameras, to try to get a better idea of what it is people have been reporting.
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources said via email Friday that a conservation officer conducted a search of the area near the airport where a large black cat was reportedly seen Thursday, but did not locate an animal matching the description provided.
The department said officers will continue to monitor the area and encourage the public to remain attentive when in wooded areas and report any unusual wildlife sightings to their local forestry and wildlife office.