Field Note: The Road to Darwin
Published: December 4, 2020
By Mark Seth Lender
On the edge of black panther country (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)
Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender shares the backstory of an entirely unanticipated encounter with an elusive Australian black panther.
Cats are specialists. Lions prefer to hunt cooperatively. The cheetah, usually a lone hunter though sometimes not, relies on speed. Leopards and their relatives are loners and depend on silence and stealth - black panthers included. You could have a panther in your local wooded park and never know it. Except for the fluffy little white dogs gone missing. It is not surprising the great cat of this story was far less impressed with us than we were with him. He, his kind, have been watching our mechanized intrusions for more than a century. And human beings in general for millennia. A wrinkle hardly worth ironing out in his tens of thousands of years of existence.
Neither Valerie nor I had heard the occasional and much-disputed reports of Australia’s black panthers in advance of our fieldwork. We were not looking for them. We saw what we saw absent expectation, which is to say, without the contaminating effect of “confirmation bias.” Proof that nothing substitutes for empirical observation (and pure unadulterated luck).
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