Peter Russell told NSW Police he feared for his life after being stalked by a large, ''completely foreign'' feline predator at Riverstone, on the fringes of dense national park bushland.
It has been sighted at least 12 times in the Riverstone area over recent years. On Thursday, the member for Hawkesbury, Ray Williams, warned the government to ''rethink'' its position or face being ''accountable'' in the event of a tragedy.
Peter Russell, who claims to have seen a large cat-like creature in Oliver Street, Riverstone.Referring to a report, released in October, that dismissed the validity of about 500 eyewitness statements, Mr Williams said: ''I appreciate [Minister for Primary Industries] Katrina Hodgkinson might have more important issues to deal with but, in accepting those findings, she is ridiculing the many hundreds who have seen this creature.
Advertisement''My wife and I saw this animal. People I know and respect have seen it. I have addressed the situation in Parliament and spoken broadly and openly about it since. If something awful happens, I'll sleep with a clear conscience.''
For decades, huge cats have been sighted by rural residents. Bushwalkers, tourists and locals say the animals resemble panthers.
A common theory is that the cats escaped from private zoos or a circus years ago and have since bred and survived across the three large national parks - Kanangra-Boyd, Blue Mountains and Wollemi - that connect across the mountains. But in the absence of definitive evidence, the subject remains a topic of widespread amusement elsewhere.
In a 1999 letter to then National Parks and Wildlife Service director-general Brian Gilligan, Department of Agriculture head Kevin Sheridan warned: ''The reports are becoming too frequent for us to ignore the possibility. To … do so could bring into question government's duty of care.''
Wildlife ecologist Johannes Bauer was later commissioned to provide expert opinion.
''Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation of the evidence is the presence of a large, feline predator,'' he said. ''In this area, [it is] most likely a leopard, less likely a jaguar.''
In 2008, then premier Nathan Rees admitted to being a believer. ''It is easy for all of us to dismiss these things … but if we're actually wrong then there is an altogether different set of scenarios.''
But today, the O'Farrell government has put its faith in the findings of New Zealand invasive species expert John Parkes, who scoffed at the notion in October, labelling the 500 eyewitness accounts as ''at best prima facie evidence'', saying ''large dogs, large feral cats or swamp wallabies'' were the likely candidates.
The latest eyewitness disagrees. On December 5, Mr Russell went to investigate why his neighbour's dogs were acting ''so distressed''.
He said, as he looked along the path that led up the street, a very large, broad, cat-like creature ran straight for him.
''This was definitely no dog,'' he said. ''It had a low rumbling growl. It was between knee and hip height, extremely stocky and very fast. I spun on my heel and ran back towards the house. I didn't know that I was going to make it to the door.
''My mind was completely thrown by what I had just witnessed. I thought I was a goner.''
Mr Russell made it safely inside and called Riverstone police.
''The officer laughed and I acknowledged her reaction was understandable,'' he said. ''But I also explained that if some poor kid ends up being taken, and I hadn't called, I would be left devastated.''
Ms Hodgkinson said that, based on the findings of Mr Parkes, the government would not commit any further expenditure. ''As far as I am concerned, the matter is closed."
But Mr Williams thinks his colleague has missed the point. ''I don't want a million dollars spent on any campaign, I just want some general acknowledgement that this is no myth … and for visitors to the national park to be armed with the knowledge that these animals could pose a danger, particularly to kids.''
Have you seen the big cat?