Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

October 8th 2011
What did Sabrina see?

Sabrina Tessari In mid September, Sabrina Tessari, an Italian backpacker to Magnetic Island saw something very strange at the back of Bungalow Bay Koala Village. Not knowing what sorts of animals one might see in Australia, she was petrified to witness an animal, for several minutes and just ten metres away, which she believes sincerely to have been a black panther.

While the report will no doubt amuse many Magnetic Island readers we have questioned Sabrina extensively about her sighting and while outlandish and right out of the ball park to us, Sabrina’s preparedness to go on the record over what she sincerely believes she saw, deserves, we think, as good an explanation as possible from Islanders and those willing to help a visitor with a sincere request.

In sometimes faltering English (Magnetic Times has edited and abridged some parts of her correspondence) Sabrina’s initial letter to us follows:

My name is Sabrina Tessari, I live in Italy near Milan, and I returned yesterday from a trip to Australia. Doing a search on the Internet I found your site and I decided to write you immediately.

Between September 16 and September 22, 2011 I stayed in the Bungalow Bay Koala Village structure in Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. I slept in a bungalow in the back row next to wire that marks the camp from the surrounding forest.

Every day and night in camp I saw every kind of animal: kangaroos, wallabies, possums and parrots that I have fed. But the last morning (around 7am) from the veranda of the bungalow I noticed a noise over the wire and thought it was the usual kangaroo. But I saw an animal that was equal to a black panther (Sabrina adds that she should have mentioned that she did not know until then that there weren't any big cats in the wild in Australia, Ed.).

I remained motionless, watching it walk slowly for a few minutes near the wire. Unfortunately, its face was turned towards the forest and I could not see (it), but the sinuous body with short hair, shiny, black and stealthy pace, the unmistakable long tail with a rounded tip, have left me in doubt.

Soon after I went to ask the people (at reception as well as the a Bungalow Bay guide ranger) if there were animals like this in the reserve. But they said they were unaware of this type of fauna.  

The night before I noticed that there were too many animals in the camp near the bungalows as if they were frightened and seeking protection close to the people.

I'm sure (of) the animal I saw and I ask you kindly, if possible, could (somebody)give some explanations about the possible existence on Magnetic Island of a black panther?

Thanks for your interest.

Sabrina Tessari

Following Sabrina’s letter we followed up with a number of questions which she quickly responded to.

Following again is an edited reworking of her responses which give further detail and display Sabrina’s genuine desire to know what it was she saw.

I was about 10 meters from the animal. The animal was about 70/75 cm high and 80 cm long excluding the tail (the latter was very long, about 60cms and was rounded at the tip).

I was on the porch of the bungalow alone.

Sabrina's husband at Bungalow 32 where the sighting occurred

The noise was something moving in the forest but I heard no (growling large cat) sound.

The animal went from left to right and visibility was very good because there were no plants. The head was facing the forest and I did not have a view of it.

I was watching it for about 3 minutes. When I saw it I was petrified. Not having a camera with me at that moment I could not capture the image. I was genuinely happy to watch it thinking it was quite common. Unfortunately I only found out after that, in Australia, let alone on an island like this, there are no large cats.

After the sighting I raced to call the front desk and spoke first with a blonde girl with glasses and then with a ranger with long hair who I had already seen conducting tours in the reserve

I have 35 years working as a clerk in a cooperative and was in Australia from 13 to 28 September. I have seen panthers at the zoo.

Magnetic Times then sought a response from Bungalow Bay over Sabrina’s unusual experience. We received the following

"My name is Shailee and I was the receptionist that spoke with the Italian woman on the morning of her “sighting”. Though I know she genuinely believed that she saw a Panther, I did inform her that we most definitely do not have panthers living on the Island.  We do have  a few large black dogs living in the area, so I can only assume that this is what she would have seen. We have had no other reports of any such sightings."

Sabrina has contacted us one more time to say.

I'm sorry to bother you with my story but I wish someone on the island could see the same animal that I have seen or at least be able to explain it. Unfortunately no one believed me. The girl at the desk and the ranger told me that it could not be a panther, she said that maybe it was a dog or a cat and she would take a look around.

To help make the rangers understand, I started to imitate the movements of the animal as he walked and the long tail but they must have thought I was the usual tourist who does not distinguish a dog from a panther.

But, in Australia, do you have big black cats or dog like panthers ??????

I know what I saw was a large cat, it definitely was not a dog or other animal. Unfortunately I do not have a photo to document my sighting but the image of what I saw is always present in my head.

So, readers, here is a very strange story and one we hope you can help solve for our visitor. And please, let's be constructive and helpful. It would be too easy just to make a fun of her genuine call for understanding.

Story: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

What did Sabrina see?
October 15th 2011
Yes, we do have big black cats on the island. I have seen them myself, not as large as the one Sabrina saw, but big, black and wild. They're called feral and they are a serious problem on the island.
October 15th 2011
My suggestion is: do not write off the possibility of a panther=like dog. There are plenty of genetic oddities in Horseshoe Bay and we are proud of all of them. Some are sleek and well groomed, others make unusual sounds = often at night. If the observer watched this one for two minutes and it never showed its face I would have even more confidence that it is a Horseshoe Bay local, born and bred.
October 24th 2011
What a fantastic story, and at 80cm's long a feral cat seems more likely. Very entertaining though. A pity the lady involved didn't contact QPWS or as it's now called DERM for her sighting as they keep all records for this sort of thing,crazy or not. Especially when it's a sighting of a supposed panther, again crazy or not. got to love tourists for this sort of thing though, very entertaining indeed.I vote for a feral cat but chalmac could be right lol.
sabrina tessari
November 1st 2011
Thank you very much for your answers…I’m sure to see a big cat, not a dog….it walks very slowly and with elegance….I didn’t know the QPWS but when I came back in Italy I looked for every kind of news on internet about my experience and so I discovered an interesting story of big cats in Australia, do you know? Then the night before the sighting I heard a strange growling under our bungalow and I came back soon inside the room very frightened (my husband heard the same sound some days before and saw ad animal like a cat but later we saw a possum in the same point so I thought that the sound is the voice of an angry possum because there was often one in the evening which walked with its baby, for this reason I didn’t write of this to the journalist)….Surely I’m only a tourist but in my country I see every kind of dogs and cats and nobody of them is like the animal that I see on Magnetic Island….just a last question…why only on Horseshoe Road are there strange scarecrow in front of the house?
Patricia MacQueen
June 8th 2012
Hello Sabrina I hope with the latest sightings by two Island residents who also sighted a LARGE cat like animal that your strange black animal will be identified,I wouldn't doubt your encounter at all for I too saw a creature {West Point Rd Charlie lol}that scared the daylights out of The Kempshalls,Noel and I it wasn't a cat but it was something you would never expect to see on the Island that alone on the West Point Rd - I have said before we wouldn't know what lives on our beautiful Island, good luck to all concerned for taking Sabrina,Ann,Patti and anyone else who has seen this animal serious,the people who have seen it are respected Islanders and would know the difference between a domestic and wild animal..
June 20th 2012
Thank you very much Misses MacQueen I hope too that this animal could be identified..I much appreciated your beautiful island because is very exotic and mysterious and inhabited by incredible creatures..why do not you contact National Geographic for a documentary on the island?
Lex Gilroy
June 25th 2012
Possibly a Penriff Panfer on holidays?

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