Training a Wild Panther

By Shelby Redfield, Swamp Men

After sifting through numerous amounts of raw footage, in order to pull beauty shots, or behind the scenes segments, my attention was caught by the captive Florida Panther at Billie Swamp Safari. In order to get the panther ready to be in educational presentations about the plight of the Florida Panther, Billie Swamp’s Operations Supervisor, Jodi Reynolds was taking on the difficult task of attempting to familiarize the cat with human contact.

First off, I know I could never go in a cage alone with an unpredictable wild animal. I mean I’m all ready pretty frightened of domesticated cats, let alone a Florida panther that is many times larger than just a small cat. It amazes me when I observe humans handling large wild animals that could potentially take your life.

Incredibly nervous for Jodi, I watched as Jodi, armed with only two Filipino bamboo sticks, enter the danger filled cage. The cat slowly made its way towards her and then immediately changed tactics and jumped out towards Jodi. Fending off the panther with her sticks, Jodi was able to stand her ground. I thought what fearlessness this woman must have to be able to face these challenges every day, and all with such a reverence and great respect for the animals she chooses to work with.

To be honest it was a little unnerving to see how docile and calm the panther seemed in the cage, as it rested its head on its paws, and then to see its not so gentle nature appear, when it felt threatened by Jodi’s entrance into its sanctuary. But it’s good to know there are people with the stamina that are able to take on the risky jobs of working with animals.

All though I knew that there were less than a hundred Florida panthers left in South Florida, I had never heard of Roy McBride, nor what an integral part he played in bringing the Florida panther back from the brink of extinction until working on this project. I was unaware, until intently watching down the shot tapes, that in 1995 cougars were brought to Florida to breed with the Florida panther, bringing their numbers back up to the 80s, by a team of people that included Roy. Knowing that essentially humans are the cause of the several deaths of panthers each year is sad to know. They may die from being hit by cars, or panthers fighting with each other over a constantly shrinking territory, due to a world that is continuously becoming encroached with the development of housing and businesses.  I certainly have a great respect for people that try to preserve nature and its animals. It helps me to remember the uniqueness of the Everglades ecosystem and how important it is to keep it alive.

While I may have a fear of untamed animals, and for the most part pretty harmless cats, I certainly value them, and hope that the Florida Panther numbers will grow to the point where they will be able to be taken off of the endangered species list.

Video preview: A search team tracks a panther in the Florida swamp, only to find him victim of a deadly cat fight.

Swamp Men: Panther Down premieres Monday May 24 at 10P et/pt on Nat Geo Wild.