Rewilding, Panthers & People

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As Florida panthers have begun to multiply, they’ve been forced to search for new home ranges. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE / FLICKR

Rewilding is a topic I started linking to as a matter of solidarity. While based in south India, I had plenty of exposure to residual evidence of the complicated–sometimes resplendently beautiful and other times brutally tragic–relationship between mankind and wild animals as played out over millennia, and still evolving. So I have kept an eye open for these stories, and have posted so many times on the topic that it might give the impression that it is a thing. As if it is happening more or better than it is really happening. But it is happening so I will keep the links coming.

Now I am in Belize most of the year, where the man-cat relationship is also millennia old, and as constant challenge as ever. But I am seeing it from well within the confines of Chan Chich Lodge and its surrounding hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy cat habitat. I know there are big cats in the USA, but not enough. That is why this story is a thrill. Dexter Filkins, never yet cited in these pages but whose reporting I depend on for other kinds of stories, was not a byline I expected to see on this story, but thanks to him for it:

For years, the Florida panther, a majestic creature that lurks in and around the forests of the ovbnm,./, has teetered on the edge of permanent disappearance. Closely related to the mountain lion, the panther once roamed across much of the South, but the ever-advancing modern world pushed it into a tiny corner of Southwest Florida. By the late nineteen-seventies, fewer than thirty survived.

Since then, the panther has been coming back, helped by a government- and privately backed expansion of its habitat. Florida panthers are now thought to number around two hundred. Indeed, there are so many big cats in the Everglades that they are venturing out in search of new territory.

This spring has brought the best news for the Florida panther in many years. For the first time since 1973, panther kittens were spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River, which had formed the northern boundary of the panther’s habitat. In March, a pair of panther kittens tripped an automatic wildlife camera in the Babcock Ranch Preserve, a forested expanse thirty-five miles west of Lake Okeechobee. That means that a female panther swam across the Caloosahatchee and recently mated with a male panther on the other side. (Male panthers, which are larger and have a bigger range than females, have been spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River for many years.) The news cheered scientists and state environmental officials, who have been trying to coax a female panther across the Caloosahatchee for more than two decades.

“We’ve been waiting for a female panther to cross the river for a long time,’’ Darrell Land, a scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told me. You can see the photos of the kittens here

Read the whole story here.

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