Saturday, 20 September 2008

Premier sinks claws into big cat mystery

September 19, 2008

NSW Premier Nathan Rees believes something big and furry is roaming Sydney's west.

And he wants to find out what it is.

Despite a lack of firm evidence, Mr Rees no longer thinks stories of big cats such as a black panther stalking western Sydney are just an urban myth.

He said he has been in contact with a local woman who has compiled a database of some 600 alleged big cat sightings.

"I don't think it's necessarily an urban myth," Mr Rees told reporters in Penrith on Friday.

"There are too many people reporting sightings."

It is a turnaround for Mr Rees, who as water minister in August said the "black panther is an urban myth".

The black cat sightings have already been subject of a three-year NSW Agriculture-led investigation, which was wrapped up in January 2002.

But Mr Rees said a recent spate of new sightings could warrant a new investigation.

"Of particular concern is if there are little kids out there, and there actually is one of these things," Mr Rees said.

"It is easy for all of us to dismiss these things ... but if we're actually wrong then there is an altogether different set of scenarios."

Sighting of big cats - dubbed either the Penrith Panther or Lithgow Panther - have been part of local folklore in Sydney's west and the Blue Mountains for decades.

Rumours persist the big cats escaped from private zoos or a circus in the area years ago, and even the local NRL club is called the Penrith Panthers.

While many people believe it is some type of exotic cat, possibly a panther, cougar or leopard, myth busters say they are nothing but large feral cats with thick winter coats.

The creatures are said to roam from Penrith to the Hawkesbury region in Sydney's north-west, along the Nepean River and across the Blue Mountain to Lithgow.

Believers say the big cats have been able to survive by roaming the three large national parks - Kanangra-Boyd, Blue Mountains and Wollemi - which connect across the mountains.

"This is Nathan Rees' 'beef stroganoff moment and demonstrates how out of touch Labor has become," said Deputy Liberal leader Jillian Skinner, referring to the uproar caused after federal Labor MP John Murphy complained earlier this week about the size of meal servings at the parliament house canteen in Canberra.

"Nathan Rees needs to get his priorities right.

"Looking into the so-called black panther, but not into the budget crisis, says a lot about this bloke and it's not good for the people of NSW."

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