Jack and David Shealy are Florida natives. In 1971, they opened Trail Lakes Campgrounds east of Ochopee, Fla. For generations, families have brought their children there to experience the wonders of the Florida Everglades. In addition to the natural wonders provided by the environment, the campgrounds also provide an array of small animals that the children can see, touch, and learn about – up close and personal.
Three weeks ago, Jack noticed that a few of his goats did not show up at feeding time; last week, he learned why.
Jan Michael Jacobson knew what was happening to the goats. Jan is the director of the Everglades Institute, and he is an expert on the Florida panther. He arranged with Jack to set up a video camera in hopes of catching the culprit in the act. He was successful.
Jack contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and asked that the panther be removed. They refused, even though the commission had previously removed a problem panther from a nearby Indian reservation. The commission confirmed that the panther had killed 15 goats and two emus. Jack asked for compensation for his loss. They refused, suggesting that Jack’s campground was the problem, not the panther.
Two nights after the videoed slaughter, the panther returned and killed five ducks, three turkeys, two emus, two goats and one chicken – while small children slept in many of the 100 sites in the 30-acre campground.
Yes, Jack has a gun and could easily solve the panther problem, but that would trigger much bigger problems. The Florida panther is protected by the Endangered Species Act, which allows the government to prosecute, fine and jail a person for protecting his property, even his own life.
The panther can cover the last meters to the prey with a speed up to 60 kilometers an hour. (http://www.dinohunter.nl/predators/panther/mode_of_life.htm)
Jacobson says the Florida panther is not endangered at all. He cites an array of scientific literature that says the DNA of the Florida panther is indistinguishable from the Texas cougar. In fact, he says, “The DNA data show that all panther living north of Nicaragua are genetically homogeneous.”
The commission also contends that “development” is encroaching on panther habitat. Jack and David have a different view. When they bought their land, it was panther free and remained so until the environmental bureaucracy decided that the panther should be re-introduced in Florida. Jack and David believe the imported Florida panther is encroaching on their private property.
“If my neighbor’s dog got inside my fence and killed these animals,” Jack reasons, “my neighbor would be liable for the damages. If the dog did it repeatedly, then I’d be within my rights to expect the law to force the removal of the dog.”
Darrell Land, a panther expert with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says it is not their responsibility to keep wild animals out of Jack’s campground. Since the attacks at the campground, the commission has dispatched employees to help scare off the panther at night, but the solution, according to Land, is to fence the panthers out or put the animals in a barn.
The Endangered Species Act affords to panthers, wolves and grizzlies the right to kill private property and denies the private-property owner the right to protect his property. The ESA also affords to bugs and weeds the right to occupy privately owned property and denies the owner the right to use his property. With nearly 2,000 species already listed as endangered or threatened and environmental groups filing lawsuits every day to add hundreds or thousands more species, the law has been twisted and abused far beyond its original intent.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission cannot say how much tax money has been spent on the panther that killed Jack and David’s animals. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent every year on bugs, weeds, panthers and other predators, but no money is available to compensate the people whose property is killed or rendered useless as a result of this government action.