It bounded out in front of their car – a black panther-like cat moving at speed.
Stunned Marlborough woman Juliearna Kavanagh from Picton has revealed how the huge animal leapt across the road, just a few feet in front of her car just before Ward.
The well-known business owner is warning people in the area to be careful in case the massive creature attacks.
She has already contacted police and Ministry of Primary Industries.
“It was in full flight; it was big and sleek and with a cat’s head and a huge tail,” she says.
Along with partner Warren Lewis, Juliearna was travelling on SH1 about 11.30pm, returning from Invercargill on Friday.
The pair were left bewildered by the strange encounter, says Juliearna who owns and operate Marlborough’s Hop on Hop off wine tour company and one in Queenstown.
“We both looked at each other, thinking what the heck had just happened?
“We pulled off the road, slightly hysterical and went through every animal that it could possibly be, but nothing made sense.
“It was shocking,” Juliarna says.
There have been numerous reports of large cats in New Zealand’s South Island, with some dating back to the early 1900’s.
A pregnant puma was documented as having escaped from a circus in Lyttleton harbor and the possibility of using cougars was discussed as a way of controlling the thriving deer population in the Canterbury foothills.
But officials have always deemed the sightings to be of a feral cat.
Juliearna says she had slowed down to go around a bend when the cat leapt across the road.
“It was just there, right in front of our headlights, right out of the blue. It was so quick; it was either chasing something or had heard our car.”
The Escape to Picton owner says she has no doubt that what she saw was a Puma.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I’d kept quiet and then it attacked a small child or livestock.
“A big cat isn’t the first thing that we naturally thought of, after all we don’t live in a country where you expect to see them. But that’s what it was,” she says.
“I don’t scare easily, I’ve seen some shit, but it was big, quick and black and I was struck by how big it’s tail was.
“If that was a feral cat, it’s a feral cat on steroids. Curiosity killed the cat but it’s not the cat I’m worried about.”
A spokeswoman from Ministry of Primary Industries says MPI has received one recent call from a member of the public in relation to a sighting of what they believed was a ‘large cat’.
We have previously received calls over the years about similar sightings. MPI has investigated many photographs, footprints and hair, scat and faeces samples, and in each of those previous cases, we have concluded the sighting to be that of a large feral cat.”