On a clear evening this past June, in rural Collier County, Florida, an endangered panther crossed a street and was hit by a man driving home. The driver, making out a tawny, crumpled form, called a hotline. The job of retrieving the animal fell to Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Lotz called me to see if I wanted to come.
I had flown into Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of the week, renting a car and heading west across the state through what remains of primordial wetlands. Tall metal fences flanked the road, like a dull, gray hermetic seal meant to keep human traffic in and wildlife out. The fences are just one of many measures to protect fewer than 180 Florida panthers alive today, all of them in the state’s southern tip.
Many more people love these rare, elusive creatures than have ever seen one. Schoolchildren voted it Florida’s official state animal, and the Miami area’s NHL team is the Florida Panthers.
(ASIDE: The whole article is suffused with the sort of smug superiority that was one of the factors that drove my move to Florida. Along with the anti-gun attitudes of my soi-disant Betters. Pah on all of them.)
OK, first some reality: the panther’s current range is some 125 miles from where I’m sitting. Additionally, the area in which I live is “built up” (snerk) enough that rabbits and toads (to name just two critters) are rarely seen on the blocks around my house. They’re around to be sure, they just don’t cross several streets to get here on any ongoing basis.
Anyway, back to the Urban Superiority:
By the time Europeans arrived, the only big feline stalking most of North America was the puma, an animal that goes by many other regional names—panther, cougar, mountain lion, catamount. Pumas had emerged in the Brazilian highlands some 300,000 years ago, crossing northward through Central America. In that end-Pleistocene extinction, they were wiped out in North America, genetic evidence suggests. So they did it all over again, crossing back from South America and eventually colonizing 100 degrees of latitude from Patagonia to Yukon.
In ur woods, eeting ur cows.
Florida faces a challenge. It has already pulled panthers back from the brink of immediate extinction. But to really preserve them, it needs to knit together enough public and private territory to sustain their population, and it needs to keep them off the roads. And somehow, Floridians need to accept a large predator not just as a hockey team mascot but as something you might find on your back porch.
FOAD, you smug b@$t@rd. Not only are there creatures that one simply doesn’t find in Central Park, they tend to grow a lot bigger because it doesn’t get below freezing very often, and everyone keeps running around all-year ’round.
As it is, I ended up with Agent Orange because I was trying to feed and adopt a kitten that was hanging out in the back yard. She decided that this was a Good Thing and has become friendly such that she regards the place as hers, even though she wants no part of being inside (I’m sure that Deathwalker’s habit of sticking his nose up her butt almost to the shoulder blades has nothing to do with that, heh). Since then, I’ve acquired two more orange cats who have had some regular human contact at some point, so they don’t mind me petting them. They are also talkative, another sign of being with humans. Along with them, there are at least two other cats who wander through and scarf up whatever leftovers that the Orange Trio leave behind.
For those of you just tuning in, one of the markers of Felinidae is just how similar they all are. Some purr, others don’t. Some hang out in groups, others are solitary, but there are certain behaviors and habits that persist no matter where (or who) they happen to be. Since it only took about two months for the local cats to figure out that I have a giant sign set up that reads FREE EATS, as soon as the panthers get up here it’s a certainty that I will find one “on my back porch”. My only question is how much one eats at a sitting. I’ll let you know.