Saturday, February 18, 2006

Panther's days of tomcattin are definitely over


Panther's days of tomcattin are definitely over




Don Juan is no longer on the prowl.


For just the second time, wildlife officials have removed a Florida panther from the wild for repeatedly preying on domesticated animals.


The removal of Florida panther 79, named "Don Juan" by scientists because of his reproductive prowess, comes on the heels of four panther deaths in the past month from collisions with cars and at a time when scientists are considering a plan to introduce the panther into new habitat in Central Florida.


The 11-year-old cat is believed to have sired about 30 offspring.


But it was the chicks he chased in his spare time that eventually got Don Juan into trouble.


Biologists confirmed that the radio-collared cat, which lived in Big Cypress National Preserve, was responsible for a number of recent kills of domesticated chickens -- as well as a hog, a turkey and a house cat -- since Feb. 9 in the Ochopee area along U.S. 41 in Collier County.


The panther was tranquilized Thursday night and is being held at a lab in Tallahassee, where it will be evaluated until officials decide where to place it.


In 2004, an 8-year-old male panther was removed from the wild after preying on animals in a petting zoo in southeastern Collier County. That cat has since been relocated to the White Oak Conservation Center north of Jacksonville.


Though only 80 adult Florida panthers are estimated to remain in the wild, biologists believe their habitat in southern Florida is nearing its carrying capacity.


Florida panthers require large areas of undeveloped habitat, often several hundred square miles. Don Juan, for instance, had a home range of 620 square miles.


Florida panthers once roamed all across the southeastern United States.


Now, there are none outside of South Florida, mostly in the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. But rapid growth in the Naples-Fort Myers region and in Miami-Dade County is squeezing the panther habitat from the west and the east.


"We feel we have an adequate deer population to support the panthers that are there now," Big Cypress biologist Deborah Jansen said. "But we are trying to determine if we're at the carrying capacity in Big Cypress."


Scientists said the decision to remove the panther was difficult. Ultimately, a group of scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation on Commission decided it made sense for three reasons:


At 11, the cat was at the upper range of the panther's expected life span.


Its reproductive success had contributed mightily to the survival of the species.


Leaving a panther that had developed a taste for domesticated animals could do more harm to the long-term recovery of the species than removing it.


"A couple of bad panthers can really make recovery tougher because you need to have public support," said Laura Hartt, an environmental policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation.



For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

Sign our petition here:


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