Escaped black panther (1973)

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The incident headlined The Straits Times on 8 March 1973. Photo retrieved from NewspaperSG.

In March 1973, a black panther was reported missing from its cage a month before the Singapore Zoo's public opening. Officials launched a hunt for the black panther that lasted for almost a year. This incident marked the first reported case of an escaped animal from the Singapore Zoo.[1]

Black Twiggy the black panther[edit | edit source]

Black Twiggy pictured in its cage. Photo retrieved from NewspaperSG.

With its slim body and thin legs, the panther had been named after the famous British model Twiggy. Black Twiggy was the youngest and smallest of the five panthers at the Singapore zoo at the time.[2] It was said to be the size of an Alsatian dog.[3]


The three-year-old panther was first imported from Thailand by the Singapore Pet Farm before it was sold to the zoo.[4] According to zoo officials, Black Twiggy arrived from Thailand in a poor and undernourished condition.[5]

Black Twiggy's escape (March 1973)[edit | edit source]

Black Twiggy was first reported missing from its cage at 7.45 am on 7 March 1973, six days after it was acquired. Authorities were thrown off when they found its empty cage securely locked.[6] A total of nearly 200 Reserve Unit troopers - armed with rifles, axes and powerful torches - zoo officials and three Alsatians from the Police Dog Unit combed the Seletar Reservoir and Mandai areas under “shoot-on-sight” orders.[7]


During this initial search, a bear was accidentally shot when the police mistook its movements for the panther’s. It was later revealed that the bear had escaped from the zoo on 4 March 1973, three days before Black Twiggy’s escape.[8]

Theories[edit | edit source]

After assembling a Committee of Inquiry, the authorities posited three possibilities explaining the black panther's disappearance. Firstly, they believed that Black Twiggy could have been stolen. Secondly, the animal could have escaped during the attempt to steal it. And finally, it could have escaped because of the negligence of the zoo’s employees.[9]


Three months after its escape, several hunters from Singapore entertained the theory that Black Twiggy had made its way North by swimming to Johor. This was challenged by the repeated black panther sightings in Singapore.[10]

Confirmed sightings[edit | edit source]

First reported sighting[edit | edit source]

Black Twiggy was reportedly spotted 6km away from the Singapore Zoo a day after its disappearance. Photo retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Black Twiggy was first spotted on 8 March 1973 around 4 miles (6 kilometres) from the Mandai area at Old Upper Thomson Road. Some schoolboys from Sembawang Hills Estate School reported the panther sighting. According to the boys, they saw the panther perched on a tree and looking at them while they were catching spiders. Troops from the Reserve Unit combed the area for four hours without any success.[11]

Subsequent sightings[edit | edit source]

On 17 March 1973, an unidentified motorist spotted Black Twiggy crouched on a tree at the entrance of Peirce Reservoir. By the time the police arrived at the scene, it was gone. The police found pug marks and scratches on the tree, believed to have been made by Black Twiggy.[12]


A few months later, New Nation reported that Black Twiggy was seen at ANZUK’s Nee Soon barracks on 24 July 1973. The police launched a hunt and combed the entire officers’ quarters. Authorities speculated that the panther could have entered the quarters in search of food.[13]


On 18 November 1973, Bombardier B.F. Swift spotted Black Twiggy while he was driving along Old Upper Thomson Road at about 10.35 am.[14] In his words:

“As I was about to step on my brakes, it jumped down onto the grass verge and sprinted across the road in front of my car before disappearing into the greenery.”[15]

According to the soldier, the panther’s body was covered in mud.[16]

Panther hunt[edit | edit source]

A map depicting the surrounding areas of Singapore Zoological Gardens. Photo retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The authorities employed various tactics to capture the black panther.

Hunting party[edit | edit source]

During the first few weeks of Black Twiggy’s escape, a hunting party was assembled to search for the panther. The party comprised of zoo officials, Reserve Unit troopers and eight local volunteer game hunters. The party scoured the dense forest reserve in the Mandai area and were ordered to shoot the animal on sight.[17]


Besides the official hunting party, several members of the public, such as shotgun owners, voluntarily kept a 24-hour vigil for the animal.[18]

Traps[edit | edit source]

Besides combing the surrounding forested areas, zoo officials laid out traps such as cages with movable roofs and rope nets.[19] While Black Twiggy remained elusive, fresh pugmarks were often reported. These marks were found in the catchment areas of the Seletar, MacRitchie and Peirce Reservoirs and the surrounding area of the Singapore Island Country Club.[20][21] Numerous wire nets and covered trenches were set up at several points where the panther’s pugmarks had been found. Authorities who were armed with tranquiliser guns kept watch over the traps.[22]


With this new trapping tactic, the number of people involved in the hunt was reduced, thereby reducing the risk of the operation. Additionally, this allowed the zoo officials to suspend the “shoot-to-kill” operation against Black Twiggy.[23] With the introduction of traps, the hunt began to consist of a daily round of traps and baits.[24]

Live bait[edit | edit source]

Live bait worked to trap Black Twiggy on one occasion. Photo retrieved from NewspaperSG.

When Black Twiggy was finally located, the police attempted to lure it out of its hiding place by using live bait such as goats, chickens and pigs. On one such incident, Black Twiggy was caught in a trap at Peirce Reservoir. After killing a goat, Black Twiggy tried to drag it out from the pit. This triggered the net that initially trapped the black panther. Unfortunately, it broke loose after clawing its way out.[25]

Black Twiggy's death (January 1974)[edit | edit source]

On 30 January 1974, it was reported that Black Twiggy was hiding inside a 70-foot (21 metres) long underground covered monsoon drain at the Singapore Turf Club. The animal had taken cover after being  chased by Dennis Choy, a clerk, and his friends. About 100 zoo officials and policemen tried to smoke out Black Twiggy by pouring petrol into the drain and firing flare guns.[26]


On 2 February 1974, The Straits Times reported that the panther’s carcass had been flushed out. It was observed that there were burn marks on its body. Upon inspection, the zoo officials believed that the animal had been dead for two days possibly due to the injuries it sustained when the authorities attempted to smoke it out. Black Twiggy’s death marked the end of its 11-month-long escape.[27]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. K.S. Sidhu. “Panther found dead in its hideout”. The Straits Times. February 2, 1974. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  2. Bharathi Mohan. “The missing panther: Secret’s out”. New Nation. April 11, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  3. Police step up the hunt for panther”. New Nation. March 8, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  4. K.S. Sidhu and Shen Swee Young. “Escaped panther: Workers quizzed by police”. The Straits Times. March 10, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  5. K.S. Sidhu. “Search to go on till the panther is caught”. The Straits Times. March 8, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  6. K.S. Sidhu. “Panther hunt… and an escaped bear is shot in jungle”. The Straits Times. March 8, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  7. Police step up the hunt for panther”. New Nation. March 8, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  8. K.S. Sidhu. “Panther hunt… and an escaped bear is shot in jungle”. The Straits Times. March 8, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  9. Panther could have been caught and exported”. The Straits Times. April 5, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  10. Bharathi Mohan. “The panther poser…New Nation. June 16, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  11. K.S. Sidhu. “Escaped panther spotted atop a tree”. The Straits Times. March 9, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  12. Motorist spots panther on tree at reservoir entrance”. The Straits Times. March 21, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  13. Bharathi Mohan. “Fresh hunt for ‘big pussy cat’”. New Nation. July 25, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  14. I saw the missing panther, says Aussie soldier”. The Straits Times. November 18, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. I saw the missing panther, says Aussie soldier”. The Straits Times. November 18, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  16. I saw the missing panther, says Aussie soldier”. The Straits Times. November 18, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. Bernard Doray. “Panther: Eight hunters join in search”. The Straits Times. March 13, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  18. R. Chandran and K.S. Sidhu. “Panther: Zoo to hold inquiry”. The Straits Times. March 11, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  19. Panther could have been caught and exported”. The Straits Times. April 5, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  20. Pug marks near SICC course: Golfers warned”. The Straits Times. March 22, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  21. Pug marks of the missing panther turn up again”. The Straits Times. June 9, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  22. Bharathi Mohan. “Missing black panther gets a reprieve”. New Nation. March 19, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  23. Bharathi Mohan. “Missing black panther gets a reprieve”. New Nation. March 19, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  24. Panther could have been caught and exported”. The Straits Times. April 5, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  25. Bharathi Mohan. “Panther in a trap… but it escapes again after a fierce struggle”. New Nation. March 27, 1973. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  26. Twiggy stays put in monsoon drain”. New Nation. January 31, 1974. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  27. K.S. Sidhu. “Panther found dead in its hideout”. The Straits Times. February 2, 1974. Accessed 12 November 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.