I was driving back from doing fish surveys on a back road at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary when I turned a corner and saw him: a spectacular adult Florida Panther. He trotted in front of me for 100 yards, seemingly unconcerned by my presence. Once he startled and ran a few feet, and I was surprised to learn that panthers lift their tails in the air when they run. He continued to saunter down the road, until eventually dissolving back into the thick forest.
This, along with many other things, is why the Florida landscape is such a fascinating one. Coastal Florida is one of the most developed and ecologically-altered places in the U.S., and yet it also harbors the only breeding population of panthers left in the U.S. east of Texas, as well as Bobcats and Florida Black Bears. Seeing a panther, I don’t know whether to feel sad or hopeful, or both. From one angle, this is the haggard remnant of a once vast population, trapped in a vice grip between agriculture and development. From another angle, it’s an inspiring sign that one of our continent’s largest predators can survive and breed in such a place. I hope we allow panthers and other members of wild America continue to coexist with us.
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