Florida Panther's Return Spells Doom for Gladesmen

Categories: Longreads

came_from_glades_credit_tim_gabor.jpg
Illustration by Tim Gabor
Jack Laban swears a cat was out here raising hell just this morning. Mosquitoes slurp blood through the 94-year-old shirtless Gladesman's baggy skin as he hobbles across a landfill of empty Pepsi cans and settles into a folding chair. The former Miami plumber with a full head of white hair uses a rope for a belt and keeps a .45 in his scuffed brown boot. He's lived out here in the Big Cypress Preserve for 35 years -- one of the last people to hold out and not sell their land to the government.

A Heinz 57 mutt barks madly in the front yard, apropos of nothing. Despite this guard dog, Laban is so paranoid that he rarely leaves his boarded-up house, which is 12 feet wide and looks like a trailer.

Although the father of two thinks grifters are out to steal his stuff, there are at least two things wrong with that assumption. First, there are only five residences left out here on Turner River Road, a dusty, chalk-colored path that forces Google Maps to go wonky and can make a pristine, light-green hatchback quickly resemble a grape dropped in playground sand.

Second, it's unclear what anyone would steal from a man who lives without hot water or air conditioning. Even if intrepid thieves made it past the yellow-haired dog and powered through the foul, sour stench, they'd likely turn back when they saw the house was overrun with opossums and rattlers that sometimes break into Laban's packets of powdered milk. Although he used to shoot at them, ricocheting bullets posed a threat. Now the critters pretty much live there too.

That's all fine by him. But if there's one animal that Laban can't tolerate, it's the Florida panther. Ever since geneticists and conservationists conspired to bulk up the federally endangered population 15 years ago, he says panthers have practically overrun the area and created a nuisance.

"No good those cats ever did nobody," he says before spitting onto the sand.
Laban and other rural Florida residents say the Florida panther's rebound is destroying their way of life. Gladesmen believe a monster cat created in 1995 to save the species is bigger, more aggressive, and multiplying rapidly.

But some wildlife officials maintain the problem is all in their heads. "When people say they're seeing all these panthers on their property, very often it's the same one coming back again and again," says Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They're notoriously overcounted by people."

But Onorato does acknowledge that the cat's population is increasing and that the numbers have increased from an estimated 30 just 15 years ago to somewhere between 100 and 180 today. The quantity of cats has actually reached carrying capacity south of the Caloosahatchee River, which cuts 67 miles across Florida, starting near Fort Myers.

He is hoping a female will have the gumption to go north. But what are Floridians supposed to do when the apex predator leaves the sparsely populated areas around Alligator Alley and heads into the 'burbs?

In May, a Port St. Lucie man was forced to ask that very question. He saw a panther and her babies crossing the street near his house and reported it to the state. When a return call never came, he took to the internet for help.
"What do I do now?" he pleaded.

"Get a gun, learn how to use it, and be prepared to shoot," came the response.


Panther.jpg
Photo by Connie Bransilver via Flickr Commons
People who live in places like Everglades City and Golden Gate Estates say panther sightings​ are a regular occurrence. These cats weigh 70 to 160 pounds as adults.
Pumas have ranged throughout North America for more than 400,000 years. Scientists believe what we know today as the Florida panther fled for the American Southeast about 18,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age turned Canada and the northern U.S. into a sheet of ice.


"The restoration project was deliriously successful, and the 'Save the Panther' license plate will be a relic to our grandchildren."


Back in 1995, the cat was almost kaput. Demographic models showed there was a 95 percent chance of extinction in two decades if nothing changed. Isolated from other subspecies of puma, the cats were inbreeding and growing weak. Knowing that the beloved creature was about to go the way of the dodo bird, scientists and conservationists were left with few options.

So an animal researcher named Stephen O'Brien cooked up a biological Hail Mary. The Cornell-bred geneticist was known for his work on endangered species, including cheetahs, lions, koalas, and humpback whales.

"People said, 'Oh you're not saving the Florida panther; you're replacing it,' " he remembers. "But the restoration project was deliriously successful, and the 'Save the Panther' license plate will be a relic to our grandchildren."

To Spanish explorers, our efforts to restore the panther would have been hilarious. They knew the animal only as a plentiful pest. Hernando DeSoto noted that Native Americans would post guards on their burial grounds to prevent the cats from eating bodies. An ornithologist named it in 1890, and for years, the Florida panther's territory looked like a map of the Confederate United States.

Then, development pushed it down to the swamp. The only people living there were Gladesmen -- a subset of the Florida cracker who collected wood and fashionable feather plumes, forging a living off the Everglades' bounty.

In 1936, Les and Bill Piper, two former bootleggers from Detroit, moved to Bonita Springs, just north of Naples, and opened a roadside zoo that catered to tourists. At Everglades Wonder Gardens, the Piper brothers bred cats from Costa Rica with those they had caught in Hendry County. According to a 1965 letter from Roger Allin, then superintendent of Everglades National Park, these cats ended up in the gene pool as part of an unpublicized repopulation program. The park received two cats in 1957 and five more between 1965 and 1968.

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52 comments
TravisGreatNephew
TravisGreatNephew

Hey, Native Texan here. That is my Great Uncle in the first part of the article. The author spelled his last name wrong and made him seem like a crazy old man. Which he totally is, but it also seems kind of disrespectful. He's a war hero and a wonderful man! I hope he blows away as many shit-skin panthers as possible

Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

I feel bad for the people, but the panthers are WAY more important, besides, we got plenty of deer.

Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

NO Andres, pythons can't catch panthers.

Andres Leon
Andres Leon

Mixed emotions about this. This is no longer a florida panther but a hybrid species. The Burmese pythons will probably wipe them out eventually.

gladesman
gladesman

Hopefully I am not wasting time writing this response to some internet troll as a friend of mine counseled me Marlin9 might be due to the dangerous information supplied in their longread post here.. My friend said nno scientist would write such a blatantly incorrect comment. Troll or not this may help some think twice before believing false information.

Marlin9  Pythons kill people in Florida and has been well established at the link below  which is one result from a 30 second google search - smothered or any other term one chooses to use means a child was killed and suffered death due to a species you allowed to wrap itself around your own young daughter - Sir you are a very irresponsible parent blinded to nature's realities possibly by your "book learning".

http://bigcatrescue.org/smothering-of-a-florida-child-by-a-python/

Another situation you and many of your intellectual highly educated peers seem be unaware of as you and they mention cold snaps killing pythons (IMO to create a false illusion they are not a serious threat to native wildlife or humans on occassion) is that the Everglades you claim to know so much about is one gigantic compost pile that retains heat down in the piled up 4 feet deep stone dead sawgrass within myriad miles long sawgrass ridges of the Everglades you know so much about's ridge and slough systems. That natural heat retention mechanism will protect untold thousands of pythons as well as other snakes from death by cold weather. Think about it - if what you and other credential touting, propaganda peddling, misinformation marketeers were correct than why is it that we have so many species of other snakes slithering throughout all of South Florida considering all of the cold snaps Fla. has had throughout it's recorded history.. Did you ever seek refuge in dense palmetto clumps to escape the bitter cold winds that blow through local swamp areas on a winter day in Fla. If you had you might have a clue to why cold snaps won't seriously kill many snakes buried way down in sawgrass ridges.

Marlin 9 you're Fla alligator "least aggressive species of all crocodilian species" concept has been proven incorrect many times in history of this State. One recent example was a friend of mine's 90 year old mother Ms Webb of Copeland Fla that had her leg ripped off by an Alligator a year or so ago plus in addition many other Floridians have been seriously injured or killed by that "least aggressive..." of species. OBTW Ms Webb was saved from death by a local Gladesmen (human) passing by that was armed with a rifle that took instant action against this "least aggressive of all species of crocodillian".

A quick google search confirms what I say:

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/environment/alligator-attack-90-year-old-collier-woman-remains

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-08-06/features/os-florida-alligator-attack-20130803_1_gatorland-gator-heads-many-gators

Your ignorance Florida's challenges put on display here brings cause to question the value of higher education and provide much credence to the term psuedo or junk-science which there is much of today.

The real problem with your dissertation here is that you are comparing apples with oranges as you promote your idyllic homelife experience with dangerous well fed dangerous wildlife as scientific fact that applies to really wild creatures while attempting to back it up with credentials you may or may or not have.

Florida's wildlife are not fed at home like yours were and when a wild animal's food sources shrink for whatever reason when they are at or above carrying capacity they will eat anything they can without remorse including you and me. As an example a true scientist named Hererro is a renowned Bear researcher and understands well after researching North American  black bear attacks that when their natural botanical and protein based food sources dry up they move on to humans as a natural food source without hesitation due to hunger and competition. Florida's management philosophy for decades has been more = better where all species populations are concerned and whether you or anyone likes it that will be changing soon which makes my day. Suggest you watch the meeting video below ( all 3 hours and 51 minutes worth).

http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/41514-florida-fish-wildlife-conservation-commission/

As you claim your claims here along with all your Everglades work (for a price I'm sure) it makes sense that you would promote a line of reasoning to keep yourself in the good graces of agencies that might pay you for more of your politically correct psuedo science services.

I also feel sorry for any students you have mis-educated as you spread your incorrect beliefs regarding dangerous wildlife.

At a minimum the watchwords pertaining to, pythons, alligators, panthers (I'll add Bears)  and other dangerous wildlife should be caution, danger, don't approach or feed, possible  death   albeit not probable  and definitely NOT least aggressive snake, least aggressive crocodillian, tame as a housecat panthers (what a laugh) - now I added bears to this and I will only anecdotally assume at mt peril that you might consider them cuddly gentle creatures.

God Help the Republic stuck with intellectual elite the likes of you and anyone you ever had influence over but on the bright side maybe you are a troll as my friend suggested.

barnyard2217
barnyard2217

The real danger in Fl is from the black panther, the two legged urban hoodie ghetto kind.

Marlin9
Marlin9

It simply amazes me about the panic people have over animals.  As a zoologist/ichthyologist, it is sad to see the endless stupid, articles the press publishes about pythons, lionfish, alligators and panthers.  Let's set the record straight:  The pythons are Burmese pythons, one of the least aggressive of all big snakes.  In fact my eldest daughter, who now teaches college prep biology and chemistry, kept a very large Burmese python for 11 years growing up and it often slept on her bed, or curled around her as she sat up weekends watching monster movies.  Burmese pythons will never flourish in a primarily water environment are they are a burrowing snake so there is not a lot of natural environment for them in the watery Everglades.  Secondly, they are very tropical so any cold snap kills most of them.  Lionfish are slow moving predators who will be competing with lots of faster swimming fish for their dinners.  They will never be the disaster they are billed as.  American alligators are the least aggressive of all the many crocodile species I have worked with.  If it weren't for man, they'd have a great life, with a smorgasbord of fish, turtles and birds to eat, spending their life lazily in the warm south Florida sun and making baby alligators.  Before I move to Florida I kept 3 alligators for 16 years, and they grew to over 9 feet, and never bit anyone.  I could scratch their noses when I handed them fish and children walked amongst them every day.  Here in Florida you cannot legally keep an alligator as a pet, but you can kill them during the hunting season, or buy an dried alligator head as a desk ornament in many gift shops.  Small alligators, to about 10 feet, are curious and swim up to tourists in the Everglades, and large ones just lay there, until some asswipe hunter walks up and shoots them point blank... a thrill for humans who love to kill.  

  As for the panthers, by any name they are called, (pumas, mountain lions, etc.), they are not a very aggressive cat in the world of big cats.  Even with the growing population saved here in Florida, no human attacks have been documented.  People who have kept these cats as pets find them as tame as any house cat, with the small requirement of needing a larger ;cat; box and a tad more food a day.

    The truth is that Florida, amongst other states, fails miserably with regards to the environment.  We spray for mosquitoes, which, of course, kills the small lizards that eat mosquitoes (I put mosquito eating small fish, Gambusia holbrooki, into my backyard small ponds, which eat mosquito larva mosquitoes put in their water.)  

     Manatee zones on Biscayne Bay are race courses for speeding boats as there is virtually no enforcement to keep these zones "no wake" and subsequently most of the manatees that survive this onslaught have propeller scars on their backs..... and Biscayne bay, once a beautiful haven for reef fish, and bigger game like sawfish, is now the "dead zone" because of all the trash thrown by boaters, and pesticides and fertilizers and septic field run-offs.

    Don't get me started... it isn't the panthers, the pythons, the lionfish, alligators  or godzilla running amuck here in Florida, it is humans that are destroying everything here in what was once a pristine paradise. 

Marlin9
Marlin9

Man remains the only creature on earth that kills for pleasure.  The panther kills for food, man for fun, so if someone has to lose, it should be the ever encroaching humans whose greed and selfishness are destroying the earth.

samueljackson864
samueljackson864

I got stock of good medical strains for sale. So if you are in need of any strain feel free to contact us on cliffhoffman8@gmail.com or text us on (801) 382-9326 for USA and Canada. Also we do sell pain pills and research chemicals so feel free to contact me at any time.

Sherry Oehler
Sherry Oehler

Someone call the waaambulance for these little bitches.

Ines C Frye
Ines C Frye

The Panthers have a right to be there. We taken all the land from thev wildlife.If they dont like it move.

Manuel Claro
Manuel Claro

Consider they ruined their way of life in the first place.

Mency Acosta
Mency Acosta

I am assuming that was the same way the settlers felt with the native Americans.

Gidget Lynn Knowles
Gidget Lynn Knowles

What a stupid comment. The panthers are ruining their way of life? Too bad!

kitcarson
kitcarson

Carter Niemeyer is a fraud a worthless predator pimp that hates people. No worthless predators should ever have m ore rights then people. Any so called wildlife expert that shuts down where people can go is anti American that wants people all bottle up in the big city because the animals have more rights then people.

Steven Patrick Bergés
Steven Patrick Bergés

The Everglades should be restored to what it was. Restore the flow of water, No people, no more western expansion of the UDB and plenty of Panthers. The big cats might even get a taste for the real pests, the invasive boa constrictors

Ron Acosta
Ron Acosta

Frank Denninger, you're a frickin' moron

SwampThing
SwampThing

Shoot, shovel, shut up will be the standard soon.

Marc Wright
Marc Wright

Maybe the 19 year old cheerleader should move to Florida and kill some beautiful animals there.

Frank Denninger
Frank Denninger

This agency expert's words from the above article - "When people say they're seeing all these panthers on their property, very often it's the same one coming back again and again," says Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. - Basically Mr Oronato verifies that for many years people have been misinformed by agencies they look to trust as to the new hybridized Fla panthers behavior. Mr Anorato's admission above acknowledges the opposite of the myth created by the government that panthers are a SHY creature - nothing could be farther from the truth concerning the hybrid Frankenstein cat Fla has now. This link shows how shy the new breed of fake Fl panther is - http://www.wideopenspaces.com/rare-florida-panther-caught-camera-video/ Experienced outdoorsmen down here know scenes in this video aren't necessarily so rare currently is our swamps.

Frank Denninger
Frank Denninger

Great article that gets out some of what many folks really think about this panther pest. As far as this excerpt from the article goes " The quantity of cats has actually reached carrying capacity south of the Caloosahatchee River, which cuts 67 miles across Florida, starting near Fort Myers." there are differerent opinions by experts that support the notion that the current population (160+) of this animal is DOUBLE what it should be and the folks in charge have known that for a long time. The source for the info I base this comment on is here at pg 19 http://www.fws.gov/verobeach/MammalsPDFs/R4FWSPantherEAFinal.pdf?spcode=A008 Here is a quote from the US Fish and Wildlife Service report I am referring to "Kautz et al. (2006) estimated that panther existing habitat could support 79 to 94 panthers. Based on the 2002 2003 field count by McBride (2003) of 87 panthers, the existing habitat south of the Caloosahatchee may be at carrying capacity." No wonder why panthers are routinely run over and approaching people in dangerous ways. Panthers come with a boat load of BS from government sponsors and their extreme enviro so called partners. As I often tell folks though - eventually the government usually has to print the truth somewhere (in this case in an obscure report rarely seen by outsiders/taxpayers) and now due to this good article you get to see it at long last.

Damien Claire
Damien Claire

They are called florida panthers....if you don't like them, move to north dakota

Lola Hernandez
Lola Hernandez

Daniel Alexander Casal Adrian Nunez Jorge Rodriguez

Najsoj Osnola
Najsoj Osnola

maybe we should stop those lousy and greedy real estate developments

gladesman
gladesman

Your empathy seems very rare these days but trust that it is greatly appreciated by all Gladesmen. God Bless You.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

So what makes you so damn morally superior that you can take his land away because the panther was there first but they can't take your room over your mom's garage?


I just wanted to know where Fascist, Self-absorption comes from.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

So Gidget.  Tell us how you would feel if an Alligator took up residence in your bedroom?

How would you react if a government hack told you you had to give up your property because some "Endangered" cricket set up residence in your bathroom?

gladesman
gladesman

Wow, now there's well informed comment from a deep thinker.

kitcarson
kitcarson

Leave the people alone stop worshipping animals like a mindless cult girl grow up pathetic loser.

Marlin9
Marlin9

To  Anthonyvop1,  Yes, there is an uneducated voice on the page... yours.  I've spent thousands of hours in places in the Everglades you haven't seen other than in pictures taken by guys like myself.  I've traveled dense forbidding jungles worldwide, and underwater in may oceans with people who care instead of simply shooting there mouths off (like yourself).  And, for my extensive work in rare species, scientists have included my name in the formal Latin designation of two species.  As for your derogatory "treehugger" label, I wear that badge as one of honor, as I work hard to try to save this planet from morons like yourself who would gladly eat the last Rhino for dinner celebrating the species demise with your fellow destroyers of the earth.


Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@Marlin9 

Mmmmm...Rhino!   Probably a little tough but would make a great Jerky.

As for the rest.....Even if it is true that just means you make you money by being an environmentalist so nothing you say should be construed as unbiased.  You are a Brownshirt in the Fascist, Anti-Capitalist movement. 


What is really sad is that guys like you want to save the world the way you want using the money of people like me.

You have no honor or morals.  You are nothing more than a self-absorbed whore.


Marlin9
Marlin9

@Anthonyvop1 @Marlin9 My father told me to never argue with drunks.  Anthonyvop1, you certainly fit the description, as your replies are nothing more than moronically stupid.  No more responses to you from me, you aren't worth the time or thought as it appears you have nothing better to do than to post insanely stupid remarks. So, soldier on but you will get no more responses from me, I have better things to do with my precious time than argue with idiots.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@Marlin9 


BTW  Remember when you said "Man remains the only creature on earth that kills for pleasure."


I noticed you avoided responding when I provide irrefutable proof of your ignorance.  


Care to defend your obtuseness?

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@Marlin9 


How predictable.

Like most Knee-Jerk Liberals when faced with the proposition that you are losing the argument you turn to personal insults.


That's OK. It just means that I have proven you wrong.

I wear it as a badge of honor.

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