'It was the biggest black cat I'd ever seen'
A big, black cat has been caught on camera in southern Victoria leaving some locals convinced it is the legendary Otways Panther.
Wildlife photographer Amber O'Meara Noseda was driving home on Friday afternoon after a trip to Mount Sabine to try and snap a pink robin.
"It was just about 4pm and it was getting dark and I wasn't having much luck," she told news.com.au today.
She jumped in her car and noticed something strange in her rear vision mirror.
"I thought it was a wallaby on the side of the road, about 50m away from where I was. Then I looked again and thought wallabies aren't black," Ms Noseda said.
"I thought maybe it was a small Labrador dog. I've got a telephoto lens so I grabbed it out of the car.
"It was walking across the road and I thought it was the biggest black cat I'd ever seen. It was certainly not the size of a normal, domesticated cat."
'MAKE OF IT WHAT YOU WILL'
Ms Noseda, who has lived in the area her whole life, said the cat "was about the size of a fox" but with the thickness of a small Labrador dog.
"The shape of the tail and the shape of the face doesn't indicate it's just a domestic cat," she said.
"I had no idea what I photographed. It was certainly bigger sitting on the side of the road, (so it was) longer rather than tall."
She said it "mosied on across the road" and didn't appear to notice her.
"If it had, it certainly wasn't scared of me," she said.
Ms Noseda used her telephoto lens at 560mm from about 30 metres away to capture the cat.
She shared the images on a Facebook community news group. By Wednesday afternoon, the post had been shared almost 300 times - attracting 600 likes and more than 100 comments.
"I am not trying to say this is an 'Otway Panther' all I am doing is showing you what I saw," Ms Noseda wrote.
"If this is a domestic wild cat, my god they are/can grow large.
"I have seen many feral cats before but not this big. Make of it what you will."
She said the post has "just gone crazy" with some people passing it off as a feral cat.
But Ms Noseda said she had heard locals talk about a big cat they had seen many years ago, and tales of mascots released during World War II or from a zoo that "had just let them go".
"A lot of the guys are old farmers and legitimate people who just don't go around making up rumours, they're not exaggerating," she told news.com.au.
"I have heard of the legend. I myself have never seen anything (until now) so sort of sitting on the line here.
"I really don't know, for so many people to say that they've seen things in the Otways for it not to be something more significant.
"You've got international tourists who say they've seen such and such, how would they know about the Otways Panther?"
She said two "really quiet fellas", aged in their 60s and 70s, had told her: "We believe you."
Ms Noseda said a researcher from Melbourne's RMIT University had contacted her via email.
"'That is not a feral cat', and that's all he said," she told news.com.au. "He just left it open."
THE MYTH OF THE MOUNTAINS
The Otway legend features on a documentary by Australian director Stu Ross, released earlier this year on the Discovery Channel, titled The Hunt: In Search of Australia's Big Cats.
"There are too many plausible origin stories to list how they got here," Ross told the Geelong Advertiser.
"Circus crashes, deregulated exotic animal trade in the early 1900s, US servicemen mascots.
"This documentary and the researchers aren't out to prove how they got here, they are more about 'boots on the ground research', finding the definitive proof that they are out there.
"They have been here for over 100 years as the documented reportage suggests, it doesn't matter how they got here, the fact is they are here."
In 2019, Otways brewery Prickly Moses even released a Black Panther craft beer "inspired by the mysterious legend of big black cats that roam the Victorian bush".
Grant Denyer admitted to news.com.au last month he's "on the panther bandwagon", having installed infra-red and motion-detecting night cameras on his property near the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.
"I've seen the panther twice on the bottom of my farm and I have video to prove it - although blurry and zoomed 10 times on my iPhone," he said.
The Lithgow panther is an enduring Australian mystery like its southern Victorian counterpart in the Otway Ranges.
Originally published as Big cat caught on camera in Victoria