Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Another FL Panther subject to removal by state

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

By Jeremy Cox (Contact)


Wednesday, March 8, 2006


The two-day, closed-door meeting in Naples signals that government agencies are taking the tribe’s complaints about the cat seriously, said Darrell Land, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist.


The talks are set to include Florida Fish and Wildlife’s top boss, Ken Haddad; the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeastern region, Sam Hamilton; and the National Park Service’s regional director, Pat Hooks.


“That sort of tells you the level of attention this situation has generated,” Land said.


Last month, agency leaders got an earful about the panther, known as No. 124, when they met with the Miccosukee Tribe’s lawyers and consultants. For two years, in letter after letter, Tribal Chairman Billy Cypress has demanded that wildlife officials remove the panther.


Now, those agency leaders want to hear from their own experts, who see the 6-year-old female as more meek than murderous.


“I haven’t see anything that, to me, I would see as a risk to people,” Land said.


The number of encounters between people and panthers has risen sharply in recent years across South Florida. Scientists say that a successful breeding program that boosted the panther’s numbers to about 80, coupled with a development boom that is eating away at their habitat, are responsible.


The growing frequency of run-ins prompted officials to write a response plan — a draft of the plan was released for public comment last month — to provide some protocol.


Pinecrest, the area along isolated Loop Road in eastern Collier and western Miami-Dade counties, is popular among panthers, Land said. The area is actually a string of tree islands, which offer a rarity in the Everglades: dry ground.


Few humans ever tread this far into the swamp and fewer still choose to live there, making it one of the last hospitable places for panthers to live. For the most part, panthers and humans coexist peacefully, but, Miccosukee officials say, panther 124 is the exception.


Several encounters going back to January 2004 show a pattern of fearlessness in the big cat, the tribe has told wildlife officials.


It has documented an instance in which a person fired a rifle shot in front of the panther and it didn’t move. Another account tells of the panther, this time with a second cat at its side, coming within 30 feet of tribal members as they prepared for a ceremonial dance, “acting more like stray dogs than animals afraid of people.”


The panther also has made frequent incursions onto the grounds of an Everglades educational center, which is operated by the Park Service and often hosts large groups of children. Scientists think cats are attracted to the center because it is home to a pack of deer, one of the panther’s favorite prey.


“Panther 124 must be removed immediately without further excuses or delays,” Cypress wrote on Dec. 13, 2005. “I further insist that the Tribe be contacted when this will be done so my staff can confirm that it was done.”


In May 2004, at the tribe’s request, wildlife officials moved one panther 124’s grown kittens to a forested area in Hendry County. Eight months later, another male panther attacked and killed the transported panther in a brawl over territory.


Panther 124 might have as many as three kittens in tow, Land said, each a little more than a year old.


Big Cypress National Preserve officials have monitored the panther and her kittens since early 2004 as well and have used “aversive conditioning” nine times to discourage the cats from interacting with humans. The conditioning includes playing tapes of barking hounds and blasting airhorns.


The Park Service has confirmed eight sightings of the panther and her offspring over that span. One report was of panther 124 falling into a pond near a home and one of her kittens getting caught in a fence at the same time. There are several more reports of panthers in the area, but scientists believe they involve other panthers.


Panther 124’s movements are tracked by a radio collar.


At this week’s meetings, officials also will discuss how their agencies should respond to future problem panthers, said Bob DeGross, chief of interpretation at Big Cypress.


Laura Hartt, environmental policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation in Atlanta, warns that politics, not science, is the driving force behind the Naples gathering.


“That alarms me because it wouldn’t be a science-based decision,” she said. “I think the level of scrutiny she’s being subjected to (panther 124)... is unprecedented.”




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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