By Jeremy Cox
Friday, November 17, 2006
Golden Gate Estates residents asked pointed questions Thursday night at a forum designed to educate them about how to live peacefully with Florida panthers.
About 50 people listened as panther experts described the plight of the endangered cats and offered tips on how to protect themselves and their properties. Some accused officials of not doing enough to thwart aggressive panthers in a year in which there have been six encounters in Collier County.
“It’s my property, not the panther’s property,” said Mildred Mercado of Golden Gate Estates. “I paid for it. They didn’t pay for it.”
One of the written questions that was read aloud referred to the Florida panther as a “government-sponsored lethal animal.”
The sudden rise in panther encounters is due to the growth in both panther and human populations, said Darrell Land, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“The people and panther interface is getting very short,” he told the audience. “And we are seeing panthers getting into town.”
If a panther poses a dire threat to human life, “It doesn’t matter that it’s an endangered species. It’s gone,” said Layne Hamilton, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the most important things residents can do to keep panthers away is to secure their livestock and pets in pens, said Capt. Jayson Horadam of state Fish and Wildlife.
“If you have a choice of cooking dinner and cleaning up an hour after work or going through a drive-through in five minutes, a lot of us would choose the drive-through,” he said.
Stuart Arnold said he has seen black bears on six occasions on his Desoto Boulevard property. But he has never seen a panther. He came to Thursday’s meeting because he was concerned about a new town to be called Big Cypress that’s planned to be built just east of the Estates.
“I know Big Cypress is going in, so is that going to push more of them (panthers) toward me?” he asked.