Phantom cats, also known as alien big cats (ABCs), are large felids which allegedly appear in regions outside their indigenous range. Sightings, tracks, and predation have been reported in a number of countries including Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. When confirmed, they are typically explained as exotic pets or escapees from private zoos.
See also: Cats in Australia
Sightings of exotic big cats in Australia began more than 100 years ago. The New South Wales State Government reported in 2003 that "more likely than not" there was a number of exotic big cats living deep in the bushlands near Sydney.
Main article: Blue Mountains panther
The Blue Mountains panther is a phantom cat reported in sightings in the Blue Mountains area, west of Sydney for over a century. Speculation about the Blue Mountains panther includes the theory that it descended from either circus or zoo escapees, or is a descendant of a military mascot.
Video footage showing a large black cat near Lithgow was examined by a group of seven zoo, museum, parks, and agriculture staff, who concluded that it was a large domestic cat (2–3 times normal size) based partly on its morphology and partly on the behaviour of a nearby normal-sized domestic cat.
In the Gippsland region of southeastern Victoria, American World War II airmen brought cougars with them as mascots and allegedly released them in the Australian bush.
A study by Deakin University concluded that the existence of big cats in the Grampian Mountains area could not be definitively demonstrated based on available evidence. The evidence was strong enough, however, for the author to believe the probability of big cats in the area is “beyond reasonable doubt".
There have been some claims that big cats have stalked the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, since early in the 19th century. These claims have been met with skepticism.
The region around Tantanoola, a town in the southeast of South Australia, was supposed to have been the stalking ground of "Tantanoola tiger" during the late 19th century. On 25 August 1895, an animal believed to be the Tantanoola tiger was shot by Tom Donovian and identified as an Assyrian wolf; although no such species appears to exist. It was stuffed and remains on display in the Tantanoola Hotel.
The blue, or Maltese, tiger, the former name taken from the common color terminology for domestic cats, is a purported color morph of the South China tiger, with sightings in Myanmar, China, and the Korean Peninsula. It is speculated that while the color morph may have theoretically existed, the severe historical bottlenecking of tiger populations make it unlike for the genotype to remain in extant populations.
In 1995, a big cat usually described as a lion (but sometimes as a lynx) was dubbed the "beast of Funen" by numerous eyewitnesses. There was an earlier big cat sighting from 1982 in southern Jutland.
A supposed lion moved around Ruokolahti near the Finnish-Russian border in June–August 1992. There were multiple sightings. Tracks were identified by a government biologist as a big feline not native to Finland. The biologist was given police powers to capture or shoot the lion by the Ministry of the Interior. Border guards participated in the hunt. The last reported sightings were in Russia and there were reports that the lion was seen by Finnish border guards and that lion tracks were found in the raked sand field used by Russian border guards to detect crossings. The lion was never captured and the incidents have never been explained. One possible explanation could have been a railway accident of a circus train in Russia, from which some animals escaped.
Main article: British big cats
Since the 1960s, there have been many alleged sightings of big cats across Great Britain. A 15-month survey conducted in 2003–2004 by the British Big Cats Society gave the following regional breakdown, based on 2,052 sightings: South West 21%, South East 16%, East Anglia 12%, Scotland 11%, and West Midlands 9%. Since 1903, a number of exotic cats, all of which are thought to have escaped from captivity, have been killed or captured.
Main article: Pogeyan
The pogeyan is a large grey feline known to local people living in the Western Ghats, India. Its name is derived from the local dialect, and means 'cat that comes and goes like the mist'.
In 2009, a black panther was allegedly spotted in the industrial area of Bommelscheuer near Bascharage. When police came, the panther was gone. In the following couple of days, the panther was spotted all over the country. For a while it was alleged that a panther had escaped a nearby zoo (Amnéville), but the zoo later denied that any panther was missing. A couple of days after the Bascharage incident, it also was mentioned that although the police did not find a panther, they did find an unusually large house cat.
In 2005, a black cougar was allegedly spotted on several occasions in a wildlife preserve, but the animal, nicknamed Winnie, was later identified as an unusually large crossbreed between a domestic cat and a wildcat.
See also: Cats in New Zealand
Since the late 1990s, big cat sightings have been reported in widely separated parts of New Zealand, in both the North and South Islands. There have been several unverified panther sightings in Mid-Canterbury near Ashburton and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, but searches conducted there in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry found no corroborating physical evidence.
Phantom cat sightings in the United States should not be confused with sightings of jaguars in their native range in the states of Arizona and New Mexico (while early records of North American jaguars show much wider distribution as far as Monterey), or cougars being sighted recolonizing the extirpated eastern cougar's former range in the Northeastern United States and expanding their range eastward.
Distribution of jaguars; pink indicates former range.
Distribution of cougars; yellow indicates former range. The lower 48 US states fall into the native range.
In 1939, a panther-like creature called the "glawackus" was sighted in Glastonbury, Connecticut. It became a national sensation, and sporadic sightings of it across Connecticut continued into the 1960s.
There have been reported sightings of what is believed to be a mountain lion in the northern Delaware forests since the late 1990s. The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife believes there may be more than one mountain lion in Delaware and that they originate from animals released from captivity.
In December 2002, sightings of a big cat increased in numbers in the Kula (upcountry) area, and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife requested the help of big cat wildlife biologists William van Pelt and Stan Cunningham of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Van Pelt and Cunningham believed that the cat was probably a large feline, such as a leopard, jaguar, or cougar. It may have been illegally brought into Hawaii as a pet and released or allowed to wander in the wild. No big cat was detected by traps, infrared cameras, or professional trackers. A fur sample was obtained in 2003, but DNA analysis was inconclusive. The state's hunt for the cat was suspended in late November 2003, after three weeks without sightings. Utah State University professor and wildlife biologist Robert Schmidt expressed strong doubts about the cat's existence, likening it to the Loch Ness monster.
In the Shawnee National Forest of Alexander County, there have been encounters of large black panthers reported sporadically since the 1860s.
MassWildlife has confirmed two cases of a mountain lion's presence in Massachusetts. There have been numerous other reports of sightings, as well as alleged photographs, but these remain unconfirmed by state wildlife officials.
Black panthers and other large non-indigenous cats have been sighted for many years in the vicinity of Oriental, North Carolina. Accounts from locals and visitors alike have been documented in the local papers.
In Europe, escaped exotic wildcats have been caught both dead and alive by people of Great Britain. DNA testing also helped in the process of finding out what the animal/s could be, proving them to actually be exotic wildcats. In the 1900s, circus owner Mary Chipperfield allegedly released her pet mountain lions into the Moorlands of Great Britain after her circus shut down. A while later, people released their exotic animals into the woods after a ban on large exotic predators took place. People have taken pictures, killed and have even captured the animals alive. Exotic wildcat species who have been caught in Great Britain include:
Another confirmed explanation is that the phantom cats are actually large stray or hybrid cats since some stray cats hybridize with the native Scottish Wildcat and the hybrids are larger than a purebred cat. The Scottish Kellas Cat is the result of hybridization of both domestic and wildcats, and a now mounted specimen matches the description of the British Black Cats: a large, robust body with black fur and small ears.
There are two records of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts that meet the evidence requirements...
Reports of mountain lions have gotten some mileage lately throughout these rural hills, with possible sightings, and on occasion, some worry about the safety of people and animals.
A photo of a big cat sitting on the banks of the Housatonic River, taken late last month and posted on Facebook, has sparked lively debate, with many claiming it to be a mountain lion -- even as the photographer and state wildlife officials say otherwise.