Originally published on Audubon Guides on September 24th, 2012
Twenty seven squirrel monkeys lived on an island at the Florida Monkey Sanctuary in Venice, Florida. They had no interest in swimming to freedom. There was no land close enough on the other side of the encircling moat that offered a chance to leap to. They were content on their island oasis.
My parents ran the sanctuary and we lived on the property when we were kids. One night while my siblings and I slept, our dogs made an awful racket. My mother asked my father to find out what was happening. He listened to the screams from the porch and stepped no further from them. One by one, the dogs returned, limping and bloodied. In the morning, my father investigated. All 27 monkeys were dead. He traced cat tracks the size of his hands; one adult and two kittens and determined that an endangered Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryii) swam across the moat with her young and hunted each and every one. Oddly, she ate none. My father’s theory was that she was teaching her kittens to hunt and quite effectively at that.
The Florida Panther is considered one of the most endangered animals on the planet. Technically they are a subspecies of the Mountain Lion, aka Puma, Cougar, Painter, Swamp Screamer and Catamount (mascot of my Alma mater – the University of Vermont – Go Cats Go!). The panthers are the last breeding population of the cats east of the Mississippi. They once ranged from Alaska, south to Tierra del Fuego in South America. In the United States they are restricted to the western states with the exception of 120-160 panthers that roam from the Caloosahatchee south to the Everglades.
|Florida Panther © Pete Corradino|
Florida Panthers are slightly smaller than the Mountain Lions out west. Adult males weigh in at 165 lbs, compared to western cats that top off at 260 lbs. Panthers measure over seven feet in length from nose to the tip of tail.
There are many sightings of panthers with descriptions of spotted cats or black cats that I chalk up to wishful thinking. Typically these are Bobcats (Lynx rufus) or a trick of the eye. Bobcats are a third of the size and are spotted with a six inch tailed compare to a three foot tail. The notion of a black panther may come from the black leopards from the Tarzan movies, the political group, their appearance at dusk or melanistic bobcats that have been sighted in Florida. The panther is golden brown with fur similar in color to their food, the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).
I was born and raised here and have yet to see a panther. I’ll keep looking and keep up my wishful thinking.