March, 2014. The Everglades. Florida’s Pampered Panthers

Posted on March 27, 2014


pantherI’m all for preserving wildlife, but sometimes I wonder.

It’s true that panthers once roamed the wilds of Florida, as well as a large area across the southeastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina.

The Florida Panther, one of thirty Puma concolor (which means light colored fur) subspecies known by many names – puma, cougar, mountain lion, painter, and catamount – is one of the most endangered mammals on earth.

Today, the breeding population of Florida Panthers – the state’s official animal – is supposedly found only in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River.

The panther needs large wilderness areas for its survival. Federally listed as endangered since 1967, the Florida panther population is reported to now consist of 100 to 120 individuals. These few animals are threatened by further habitat loss, collisions with cars, the ill effects of inbreeding, and high levels of mercury in their prey.

Many of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.  And, the National Park Service, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups are working hard to rebuild the breeding population.


panther fenceBut the panther, as already stated, needs large wilderness areas to survive. Trust me, there’s not that much “wilderness” left in Florida, and what wide open area does exist – other than Big Cypress and the Everglades – seems to be well-used for agricultural purposes such as dairy, cattle, citrus and vegetable crops.

Miles and miles and MILES of fence have been erected inside and outside the parks in an effort to keep panthers off the highways. Big, tall chain link affairs with prison-like barbed wire angled across the top, accompanied by signs warning of panther crossings, are a pretty common sight.

Unfortunately, the panther has not learned to stay within these areas setting the stage for what you’d think would be a totally-expected eventual confrontation between man and animal.

The Tampa Times reported about a gentleman who walked the fence line at his house near Naples, trying to find the hole that he figured his missing goats must have used to escape. At the back of his property, 300 feet from his house, he saw a dark shape. When he got within 12 feet, it growled at him.

An endangered Florida Panther was eating one of his chickens, and it was not going to let go, not even when confronted by a human. This is what happens when a large animal loses its fear of humans.

Part of the problem, say biologists, is that there are panthers now living in a habitat that contains more humans than it used to. There are concerns that the panthers, which once shied away from people, may be changing their ways, adapting to life in a landscape that’s no longer a wilderness.

HeLLO-O-O-O! That’s what always happens when a large wild animal has no predators.

Then there’s the cost. It was reported in 2007, with a panther population estimated at 100 adults, $4,788,873 had been – or would be – spent on panther pampering. That’s nearly $4,800 per animal, and who knows what the cost is now seven years later.DSCN0771

We took a trip through Big Cyprus and the Everglades with its Sea of Grass, but for a really impressive wilderness experience I’ll take Louisiana’s Atchafalaya. Though to be fair, they are totally different environments.

We saw lots of fish, turtles, alligators and birds – but nothing we weren’t seeing every day in and around the ponds inside our RV park just south of Lakeland.

Except, of course, the Panther Crossing signs.

Posted in: Travel - Florida