Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Not in My Backyard

Oh this title could mean so many things today. I said to MaLe that I would go write and she said in her adorable Ecuadorian accent "Will you write about the perpetual fart smell outside?" The insideous smell has returned this evening after a few week hiatus and you would think people would be up in arms over a smell so foul. But I guess we all did move in to a place where a sewage treatment plant is in our backyard.

People don't seem to mind much in their backyards here. Malls, limestone quarries, nuclear power plants, golf courses. Build it and they will come. Oddly, Panthers, Crocodiles, Alligators and Manatees are objectionable to those that find their presence intrusive and a damper to a certain lifestyle.

The South Florida Water Management District just warned all communities in and around the Everglades that no more water will be drawn from the Everglades, which would seem like a good thing. People are still coming. Nearly 1000 people a day move here and communities are being told - Find another source of water. Desalinization - Recycle Water - Reduced Consumption. Heck - I know where they can get some partially treated waste water. Many have their eyes set on the Florida aquifer - the largest aquifer in the world that lies quietly 1000 feet below the limestone, fun parks and interstates.

Yesterday the 6th "Florida Panther" in 2007 was hit and killed by a vehicle on Interstate-75. (Click here for a map I'm working on of Panther fatalities) There is an estimated population of around 80-100 cats in the Everglades. They have been dubbed the most Endangered mammal on the planet. The thing is, the Florida Panther has long been considered a subspecies of the Mountain Lion Puma concolor (aka Cougar, Puma, Painter, Catamount (shout out to the cats in VT), Screamer and Nittany Lion.) The population had dropped to around 20-30 just 20 years ago and they were so inbred that they had numerous physical and physiological mutations. A cowlick on the nape of the neck, a kinked tail, leaky valves in the heart and males with testicles that did not descend. (stop giggling little sister) Fish & Wildlife introduced 10 Texas Cougars into the population a few years ago to expand the gene pool. They are the same species, but when mixed, would the Florida Panther cease to exist? In truth, the Texas Cougar and Florida Panther are essentially the same animal, with very few distinct genes, so the answer is no. But many found the transplants to be an abomination. Funny thing was, in 1993 when they studied the genes of cats in the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Park cats had DNA from a South American Puma! Biologists knew something was odd. No cat would range that far. They determined that these "non-native" genes had entered the population about 40 years earlier. Apparently, an owner of a roadside zoo back in the 50's had released his cat into the wild. He refused to admit it but decades later, the evidence is still present in the Florida Panther population.

The cats are the natural heritage of the Everglades. The landscape would be severely diminished without them and while the species would still survive from Alaska down to Tierra Del Fuego under other names, the loss of the Florida Panther subspecies would be disheartening. So 6 cats in 3 months is terrible, regardless of their genetic stock. 16 in 18 months is even worse.

There is less and less room for the panthers to roam. A male requires about 200 square miles and refuses to share with another male, often leading to confrontations and occasionally death of one cat. The steady erosion of habitat continues and as people continue to relocate and expand their habitat it would seem soon there will be none left for the cats. Sadly and certainly, not in my backyard.


  1. Good points, Pete. I'm just having a hard time with that picture of you dancing in your underwear.

  2. It's more of a tropical bathing suit that Meez wears while eating cake. And remember - the cartoon is not me. It's just looks eerily similar.