Posted by Mike Jerrard
There it was, standing just yards ahead of us with eyes which seemed to pierce straight through to our souls. For a moment we were lucky enough to share an old dense overgrown logging road deep in the Fakahatchee Strand with a ghost. And then just like a true ghost it would vanish without a sound back into the cypress swamp. This ghost however would leave traces of its presence behind to prove to us both we were not hallucinating nor were we crazy. Unlike skeptical abstract whitish images or bright orbs caught on film, this ghost’s likeness was clearly visible on our camera’s digital media card and along with this were imprints in the soft wet mud of its footprints as we made our way up to were the ghost had vanished.
The title of “Fakahatchee Ghost” might belong to the rare Ghost Orchid, an extremely rare flower which can only be found in remote regions of Southern Florida swamps, but the area is also home to a much larger ghost, the Florida Panther.
Like the Ghost Orchid, which is the most sought after orchid in the U.S. and quite possibly the world, many people too hope for the chance to see one of the large cats as they hike, bike, or drive through the Everglades and BigCypressSwamp. Most visitors however will end up having to settle for a black silhouette of one on a big yellow sign which can be found along roadways bordering the roadways of the Glades and Big Cypress. In many areas along these roadways, fences and underpasses have been constructed to aid in reducing the number of car collisions with the panthers as this has been proven to be one of the greatest causes of death to this endangered species.
Having lived in South Florida for nearly ten years I have been lucky enough to spend countless days out in Florida’s southern swamps and even after putting in enough hours to net a very large salary had I been working instead of hiking through the woods and swamps, I have only been graced by a panther’s presence five times in which the cumulative time for all of those sightings have been about the same amount of time it takes for one to begin sweating in the midday heat of Florida Summer.
To see a wild Florida panther is an event to cherish and most if not all of the beautiful portraits you find of them in books and on postcards come from captive “runway models” if you will, provided by captive facilities such as zoos or rehabilitation centers. True photographs of the wild elusive creature are most likely to come from extremely lucky photographers from afar or strategically placed infrared cameras which even the ghostly cat cannot avoid.
To come to the Everglades in the hopes of seeing this rare cat is wishful thinking at best, this being said, my Australian wife Megan would end up spotting one with me on her first trip through Big Cypress. This may be a sign that the recovery program is working or maybe the cats are fond of Australians! Either way there is a chance, however small it may be, that you can come away with an experience you will cherish forever.
As for seeing a Black panther, that may be a bit tough as contrary to much belief, they do not in fact exist. The black panther remains in the same category with Bigfoot, an area known in science as crypto zoology, or the study of animal or species which remains unproven unconfirmed. There has never been a genuine photo nor specimen provided of a Black panther. If you ever believe you have indeed seen one, it would have had to be a rare case of melanism which has only been proven to occur in jaguars, leopards, and in rare cases other large cats but never in the species we have come to call a panther which also goes under the alias of cougar and mountain lion depending on where in the states you reside. So if you happen to see a very large black cat, then it is most definitely an escaped jaguar or leopard from a zoo or other sanctuary.
I sincerely apologize if I have crushed your dreams of hopefully seeing a black panther one day in the swamps of Florida but if it is a tawny colored Florida Panther you seek, then take it from me, they do exist and catching a glimpse of one will be an experience you will carry with you forever.