Monday, December 02, 2019

The Story of the Florida Panther Is Worth Telling

In 1981, Florida school children were asked to vote for Florida’s state animal and were given a ballot with three candidates: the manatee, the Key deer and the Florida panther. Maybe not surprisingly, they overwhelmingly voted for the dashing, tawny predator. Craig Pittman is thankful. School kids popularized this big cat, a feline most Floridians had never seen or really thought much about, helping to save it from extinction by funneling attention and then money in its direction. They also gave Pittman the beginnings of what he calls a “great yarn,” his new book Cat Tale: The Weird, Wild Battle to Save the Florida Panther (excerpted below). Early on, Pittman says, he realized the story of the Florida panther was worth telling. The Florida panther is an umbrella species, which means that protecting the panther and the land that it roams on is vital to protecting other animals (including humans) and resources, such as water, that we need in Florida. But as in all good books, Cat Tale contains drama and an assortment of heroes and villains: inspiring, devoted biologists (women in science play pivotal, positive roles, he’s happy to say), committed government workers as well as corrupt ones, junk science, powerful developers, a taciturn Texan cougar hunter straight out of Hollywood casting, and a desperate dramatic experiment to introduce new cougar DNA into the Florida panther bloodline. When Pittman started his reporting on the panther, there were about 30 left in Florida. Today there may be as many as 230, and the panthers that are roaming and breeding are healthier. But their survival isn’t assured. Florida’s growth and pressure to develop and the politics of the state continue to encroach on their habitat...MORE

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