Saving the Florida Panther – I hope it’s not too late
“The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Less than 160 cats remain in the wild. Most live around Okaloacoochee Slough, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples.” – The Nature Conservancy
I grew up in North Florida during the 1950s and 1960s before the state became as overdeveloped as it is now. At the time, there was a captive Florida Panther at a local animal museum that had been injured either by guns or automobiles and was there to recover. It was my favorite animal in the place, one that still lived in the wild in the Florida Panhandle.
In my recent contemporary fantasy novel The Seeker, some of the action takes place at a wild, wonderful and somewhat forbidding tract of piney woods, swamps and wet prairies near the mouth of the Apalachicola River called “Tate’s Hell.” That name comes from the legendary man named Cebe Tate who chased a panther through the swamp because he thought it was killing his stock. He disappeared.
He was bitten by a rattlesnake. When searchers found him, his last words were, “My name’s Tate and I’ve been through hell.”
I grew up with that legend–one that included a folk song about Tate by Florida singer Will McLean–and knew the area well. So naturally, I mentioned the legend in my novel which is set at a time when Panthers were still there.
Catching up on the status of the Panther as I wrote the novel was a sad experience. While I was pleased to hear that in addition to the Nature Conservancy, organizations like Panther Net and Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge were working hard to protect the panther and its vanishing habitat, I was saddened to see how much ground and how many panthers had been lost since the says when I hiked in Tate’s Hell.
One conservation push in many areas of the country is wildlife corridors, protected strips or chunks of land that link up with vital habitats, creating a way for animals to travel between them. In some places, you will see green-space overpasses and underpasses routing animals past Interstate highways. Last year, the Nature Conservancy was able to protect a 1,278 acre tract in Glades County, Florida that Panthers in protected areas can use to increase the size of their range near Naples, FL.
According to the Nature Conservancy, “This acquisition will encourage the natural recovery of the Florida panther population by providing habitat where animals can den and stalk prey, and migrate from southern Florida to areas north of the river. Other species will benefit as well.” The range for a male panther is 200 square miles. The range for a female panther is a 75-mile block within the male’s territory.
I hope the efforts of hard-working people to save the Florida Panther will succeed. In a tourist and development-minded state, playgrounds often trump wild places and vital habitats in the eyes of government, Chambers of Commerce and the public. Too bad. It’s a short-sighted view of one’s world.