The Lady and The Panther

July 6, 2017 - Hiking Pants

How wildlife biologist Deborah Jansen has upheld a quip of a panther in Florida over a final 30 years.

Deborah Jansen in 1981 and 2012

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Chris Belden / Ralph Arwood


She spots them from her roost atop a rumbling engulf buggy. Panther tracks. A new sleet showering had combined a ideal murky middle for ideally imprinted paws.

Deborah Jansen climbs down from a cart and squats to inspect them some-more closely. She looks to a woods from where a cat contingency have emerged, and her eyes fixate on a patch of foliage. 

“We can see where a brush has been trampled a small bit,” she says. She crosses a threshold into a forest. A few stairs in, she pauses, inhales and peers over a margin of her National Park Service hat. “Do we smell that?”

With footsteps as light and as discerning as a creatures she tracks, Jansen, a wildlife biologist for Big Cypress National Preserve, creates her approach deeper into a woods. A few hundred feet in, we find ourselves during a corner of a watering hole, a ruins of final season’s rains. A few fat bullhead fish chug by a plod amid a scaly carcasses of less-adaptable species. Jansen wonders if a smell that she’d rescued is merely rotting fish—or rotting strength from a panther’s kill. She trudges divided from a pool, a fragrance intensifies, and she hopes for a latter.

“You’re gonna cruise this was all staged,” she grins, picking her approach by a cocktail ash.

This year, Jansen celebrates her 30th anniversary as Big Cypress’ wildlife biologist and a owner of a panther investigate project. The story of her career follows that of a vast cat’s comeback. Her research—in tandem with that of associate biologists during other state and sovereign wildlife agencies—has sensitive us of substantially all we know about a Florida panther. Those discoveries are vicious for moulding policy, for creation land-use decisions and, increasingly, for reckoning out how humans and panthers can coexist.


There were no serve signs of a panther kill or panther basement or anything else panther-related that Apr afternoon, yet a prepared prominence of marks (we’d speckled others elsewhere in a reserve that morning) is remarkable.

Earlier in her tenure, Jansen had teamed adult with trapper Rocky McBride to brush Big Cypress looking for justification of a vast cats.

Jansen fits a tranquilized Florida panther with a telemetry collar in 2010.

“(Rocky) and we wanted out here in a preserve—with his dogs—for 30 days straight,” Jansen says. “We didn’t find any panthers. Today, we would contend roughly any route that we go on, if we spend a integrate of hours in a woods, you’re gonna see where a panther walked a trail.”

The Florida panther, a subspecies of a puma, once roamed via a Southeastern United States. Habitat loss, highway growth and open policy—in a 1800s hunters warranted $5 per hide—culled a race to nearby extinction. In fact, by a 1960s, state wildlife officials could not contend for certain either a Florida panther still existed.

In 1972, a World Wildlife Fund hired a eminent Texas trapper Roy McBride (Rocky’s father) to see if he and his hounds could find traces of them. He did, yet their opinion was grim. Less than 20 remained, according to a trapper’s estimates and serve research.

If a panther were to persist, it indispensable some critical protection. 

Congress upheld a Endangered Species Act in 1973, that gave a cats stable station and would need wildlife experts to qualification a liberation plan. A state law in 1978 done murdering a Florida panther illegal; in 1982 Florida schoolchildren named a panther a state’s central animal.

And that’s around a time a immature biologist had arrived in Florida.


Jansen is a Wisconsin local who retains that north-central, Minnesota-inspired accent. Her friend, Naples mural artist Nicholas Petrucci, says she has “crystal blue eyes as approach as a panther kitten’s,” an wholly good description. Jansen was lifted by a salesman father and an English clergyman mom, who squealed during spiders herself yet indulged her daughter’s oddity of a healthy world. The family spent a few weeks any summer during a lakeside cabin where Jansen favourite to fish and play in a woods. An eighth-grade biology clergyman incited Jansen on to a thought of science-as-career. At a University of Wisconsin during Eau Claire, she majored in biology with a teenager in English and journalism.

Jansen married her college swain and followed her father to his pursuit during a residential core for children with special needs. She served in several positions there. “It was interesting,” she says, “but it certain wasn’t in my field.” The matrimony finished 5 years later.

Not prolonged after, Jansen reason a news news about a opening of a College of Natural Resources during a University of Wisconsin during Stevens Point. “That was my fulfilment that we could have a career in this.” She entered a connoisseur program—one of usually twin women to do so.

“(Sexism) wasn’t blatant, yet there was substantially some rancour on a partial of a masculine connoisseur students,” she says. “I was naive. They were a lot some-more savvy—hunters, fishermen.” She prevailed, nevertheless, and a timing of her 1978 graduation couldn’t have been some-more perfect.

The supervision had launched an bid to sinecure some-more women in a sciences. The rising margin of environmental consulting was following suit.

Gender alone could have landed Jansen interviews, yet she saw a pursuit hunt as an event for a small fun.

For a wildlife discussion reason shortly before commencement, Jansen done a torso-length poster that she strung around her neck. “M.S. IN WILDL. LOOK’N FOR A JOB” it screamed in immature and blue letters (Ms., of course, not usually station for “Master of Science” yet also a practice new tenure for released immature women). The sign, joined with a blondish ’fro she wore during a time and a pull for womanlike scientists, grabbed lots of attention. To this day, a poster hangs on her bureau wall.

She deserted her initial offers, from environmental firms that wanted her to accumulate and write reports formed on other scientists’ margin research. “I was observant to all those people, ‘No, we unequivocally wish to work in a field.’ we did not wish to spin an bureau biologist.”

Instead, she took a proxy gig, on a crocodile investigate devise during Everglades National Park. She’s been in South Florida in several capacities ever since. In 1987, a National Park Service hired her as a Big Cypress wildlife biologist. In serve to her panther work, Jansen researches other involved class such as a red-cockaded woodpecker and bonneted bat, serves as a preserve’s lead python agent, leads surveys of deer and other animals, collaborates with her peers during associated agencies and advises on process matters as they associate to wildlife protection.

She ditches a bureau whenever possible.

Related: Nature during Night in Southwest Florida

Jansen embarked on her pursuit as partial of a cadre of biological detectives, combing a forest to learn a reasons behind a predator’s demise. For her, a doubt revolved around Big Cypress. With 729,000 acres of minimally overwhelmed landscape, since wasn’t a land plentiful with them? 

Truth be told, some heading scientists had created off Big Cypress as intensity panther habitat, desiring a cats indispensable a denser forests and aloft elevations found north of Alligator Alley. They against Jansen and a National Park Service starting their possess panther studies.

“‘Land of a Living Dead,’ it was called,” Jansen remembers. “The panthers who go down there will go down there and die. That’s what all these panther experts were saying.”

Jansen’s a little woman. She stands usually 5 feet 4 inches high and her slight support hardly fills her hiking pants. But she is not diminutive.

“I theory we cruise my biggest fulfilment is that I’m persistent. People tell me that, that I’m persistent,” she says, grinning. She believed a panthers could feed off a deer and hogs benefaction on a preserve, use a thick shelter for dens, and find service from rainy-season plod on towering hammocks. Most importantly, they could ramble easy by highway traffic—their singular biggest threat. She kept researching, portion on panther-related advisory committees and feeding into a flourishing bottom of knowledge, even yet she wouldn’t start her possess telemetry studies until years later.

If she were right, and Big Cypress could support panthers, what else competence explain their absence? Eventually, Jansen and other scientists resolved that a biggest hazard acted to a panther was not miss of habitat, yet miss of genetic diversity. Inbreeding had tormented a remaining cats with all sorts of defects, from heart ailments to dull testicles. That fulfilment led to a preference that halted a arena toward extinction.


In 1995, state wildlife experts hired a elder McBride to constraint 8 Texas cougars and transplant them to Florida, anticipating to exterminate a inherent genetic kinks. Jansen continued to accommodate with doubt over a bearing of Big Cypress as habitat.

“When we wanted to have twin of those females from Texas out here in Big Cypress, they said, ‘No, it’s usually a rubbish of those females,’” Jansen says.

Jansen and her group with a tranquilized panther.

Wildlife officials eventually did redeem twin cougars within her investigate area. There were so few tact males that it took twin years to soak them. One died as a outcome of pregnancy complications. The other birthed twin females, that in spin would behind 3 kittens apiece.

“They get by,” Jansen says of a pumas’ ability to adapt. “They figure it out.”

(Jansen doesn’t excavate into this, yet a early assumptions about a Florida panthers’ medium needs were after repudiated, that had extended implications for land refuge decisions and growth applications.)

The churned kittens grew into adults and sparked a race rebound. As a numbers grew, Jansen during final got her wish: The state group obliged for a collaring and tracking panthers concluded there were too many panthers for a singular group to monitor. In 2000, Jansen started a panther telemetry module during Big Cypress.

Today, a reserve supports some 40 cats, by Jansen’s estimates. All told, a Florida panther race ranges between 120 and 230, according to a latest sovereign estimate. Their quip might reason lessons for other scientists operative with other involved species; in Indonesia, for example, scientists during Big Cypress’ “sister park” are reviewing panther investigate in their efforts to redeem threatened orangutans.


A deer emerged from a brush late one May afternoon and dashed behind clandestine as Jansen’s engulf cart approached. The deer count was looking unusually good this past spring, a mammals enjoying sensuous new grasses flourishing from recently burnt areas.

In 30 years, Jansen has come to know this land and review a signs. She can tell you, for example, when cabbage palm overtakes areas once populated by pine, or exotics intrude on local plants, or a deer count dips or rises.

“When you’re sitting during a desk, we don’t unequivocally see a pointed changes,” she says. “If a new chairman came in, he would have no thought if there’s new, outlandish foliage or animals that don’t demeanour good or places that need to be burned.”

Likewise, she can recite a story of a panther comeback, scarcely from page one.

Two panther kittens counterpart out from their den.

“She was with me when we reason a initial panther, and she’s been here ever since,” says Roy McBride, referring to a constraint and collaring of a panther in 1981 that strictly launched a state’s studies. “I theory she got a vast flog out of it.”

Indeed. Photos of Jansen taken in a margin uncover roughly a childlike pleasure in her work, her blue eyes far-reaching and smiling. Yet, as witty as she can be, she’s regarded as a critical scientist.

“She knows her stuff,” says Ron Clark, a Big Cypress executive of healthy resources. “Just about all we know about panthers is from a observations and monitoring that have taken place out here.”

Once a year, Jansen and her group fit as many panthers as they can find with telemetry collars. The tagged panthers are located 3 times per week by air; Jansen follows their movements, her analyses gleaning information about roaming habits, tact frequency, kitten survivability, mankind rates and reasons, feeding preferences and a like. Her information is available along with that of other state and sovereign wildlife biologists; a state, in fact, keeps a record of each panther ever collared and each kitten ever tagged, dating behind to 1981.

Jansen’s been during this prolonged adequate now to have followed a few cats from birth to healthy death.

“I might have seen them a sum of 3 times in their lives, yet still, even yet we usually hear them (with their telemetry signal), your mind still visualizes what it looked like,” she muses. The work, she adds, never gets old.

The information change all from medium refuge decisions to slackening strategies—underpasses, fences, easements—to relieve a blow of tellurian development. This spring, Jansen and other wildlife experts started conversations with a state Department of Transportation per a devise to partially four-lane State Road 29 and a growth of a new city in eastern Collier County nearby Oil Well Road.

“I unequivocally cruise it will be a electrocute if they don’t put (crossings) in. How successfully can an animal—a bear or a panther or a deer—cross 4 lanes of traffic?” says Jansen. As of May, 10 of a 13 panther deaths this year were due to roadways; final year saw 34 of 42 deaths associated to automobile strikes.

If a tellurian preference runs opposite to what scholarship says is good for a ecosystem, Jansen can be counted on to pronounce up—one who gives “voice to those who can't speak,” according to Petrucci, a artist.

“The one trait we can cruise of that has authorised her to be a good scientist and a reputable scientist, not usually in a panther margin yet in a wildlife village in general, is Deb is one chairman we can rest on to give we an honest and approach opinion if we ask of it,” says David Shindle, a Florida panther coordinator for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Cougar McBride, Rocky’s son and a third-generation trapper, creates a identical observation: “She tends to let contribution pronounce for themselves. … She’s never been inequitable by anyone’s agenda. I’ve always dignified that about her.”


Jansen cuts a engine of her engulf buggy. The overpower is instant. A day like today—rumbling by a forest monitoring an ecosystem unmarred by tellurian development—is a biggest personal prerogative of her job.

Retirement crosses her mind, yet “other people seem to cruise about it some-more than we do.” She thinks about shopping her dream car, a Mini Cooper, and production around for a while before trade it for something practical. She recently detected a passion for rival ballroom dance and found that she likes a twin temperament of imperishable outdoorswoman by day and bejeweled dancer by night.

But Jansen’s in no good precipitate to leave. A new superintendent during Big Cypress has shown most support in her continued research, and besides, a wildlife village is still booming with final spring’s breakthrough news. Last March, for a initial time in 40 years, a womanlike panther and her kittens were speckled north of a Caloosahatchee River. If they survive, if they make their approach to reserve lands serve north, if those kittens strech majority and breed, a pathers’ quip might be solidified.

That is a lot of “ifs.”

But panthers might need to widespread out if a race is to continue growing. South Florida has gotten crowded; Big Cypress, Jansen believes, has usually about reached capacity.

“In a early years, we never listened of males murdering females,” she says. “Now it’s sincerely common.”

There’s most discuss about either Floridians will endure many some-more predators. Ranchers are eyeing a increasing race with trepidation—in 2016, panthers killed or maimed 58 other species. Three were dogs. That’s led to questions about reserve and about state remuneration for ranchers.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has asked sovereign officials to recur how vast a panther race contingency be to pierce a puma off of a involved class list. Some have questioned, too, either a Florida panther is unequivocally a graphic class or either it’s no opposite from other cougars, like a Texas cats from that many get lineage.

Most Floridians will never see a panther; many will not step feet on a lands where a vast cats roam. Why should they caring either a class survives?

Jansen pauses to cruise a question. It does not take her prolonged to voice her answer.

“I privately don’t cruise we have a right to take a life. I’m not a vegetarian, yet we honour all forms of life—whether it’s a spider in my residence that we don’t kill since we don’t cruise we have a right to take anything so perplexing and so fascinating. we usually feel Big Cypress and South Florida are wealthier, not usually healthier, yet wealthier since we’ve got a components to support a vast predator. we cruise there’s value to that.”

She adds: “We’re some-more finish carrying them. Not usually looking from an ecosystem standpoint, yet we’re partial of this whole picture.”



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