In tones both reportorial and evocative of the shadowy and deadly habits of the Florida panther, Fergus chronicles the efforts of a welter of agencies and individuals to avert the extinction of this creature, which ranks high on the Endangered Species List. Wildlife officials estimate only 50 to 75 adults and kittens- -the majority bearing the inbred characteristics of a cowlick and kinked tail—inhabit the state, mainly in the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. Continually threatened by hunters, cars, encroaching agricultural and residential development, mercury poisoning, and the scarcity of healthy, breeding males, the future of Felis concolor coryi is bleak. Fergus (Shadow Catcher, 1991, etc.) manages to insinuate himself among field biologists, wildlife managers, ranchers, and private preserve owners who offer varying solutions to save this puma subspecies. Possibilities include land acquisitions connecting panther habitats, increasing the population of deer (the favored prey of the panther), captive breeding programs, and introduction of a genetically different subspecies. While this last measure might legally bump the Florida panther off the Endangered Species List as an unfundable hybrid, Fergus argues, ``if it came down to one or the other, was it not better for the subspecies to renew itself with outside blood . . . Subspecies be damned, it was a panther.'' Pleasingly unpedantic, Fergus also relates anecdotal snippets of scrapes between humans and this predator over the last century, introduces readers to the country's most famous panther hunter, and rides with a group of humorously profane Florida cowboys on a ranch in panther country. Fergus's prose is highly descriptive, particularly when, daydreaming at a droning meeting convened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, he envisions a panther's quiet, muscular stalk through the woods. Concise and comprehensive, this fills an important niche in the environmental compendium of species that face annihilation at the hands of man.
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