Panthers are back. Florida's still-imperiled big cat--one of the largest in the country--has bounced back from just 20 individuals to more than 160 during the last 30 years. But it's now in danger of suffering from its own (modest) success. Southwest Florida cattle ranches, spread over tens of thousands of acres of prime panther habitat, are reporting deaths of calves and livestock. Even big cats think cows are delicious.
But instead of the backlash that followed the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park leading to today's hunting season (after stripping them of Endangered Species Act status in the Northern Rocky states) and rhetorical battles between Washington and Western states, cattlemen and conservationists are cooperating.
"Florida cattle ranchers understand that a balance needs to be reached between protecting endangered panthers and addressing the financial impacts of losing calves to panther predation," said Russell Priddy, owner of the 9,000-acre JB Ranch near the Big Cypress National Preserve: "We will do our part, and we are expecting that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be responsive to our situation."
The big cats are ranging as close to Miami as Everglades National Park, as seen on this video from a camera in one of the State's water management districts:
This means that the cats are going to increasingly interact with humans and livestock, and those interactions are going to need to be managed. A human death from a panther will hopefully never happen. For the cattle that meet an unforunate demise, there is a $25,000 fund is being proposed by the FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to compensate ranchers. And the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will conduct research this fall on the panther's impact on cattle ranching. So far, though, all parties are working together to make panther reintroduction work.
If successful, it could lead to a better example for the reintroduction of major predators in their former habitat critical to the health of larger ecosystems across the U.S., and the world, according to recent studies. With still-endangered gray wolves roaming from Wyoming to the Great Lakes region, mountain lions repopulating the East, and a pioneering if threatened population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico, small outposts of carnivores coexisting with humans on the continent they once dominated is a good sign for both species.