Cat Tale

Craig Pittman / Hanover Square Press / 336 pages

Few endangered species sagas are as complex as the fight to save the Florida panther. Journalist Craig Pittman does an excellent job of untangling 50 years of biopolitics, egos, and evolving science in his new book Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther.

The story is set in South Florida’s complex and diverse landscape dominated by the Big Cypress Swamp, the Everglades, tribal lands, cattle ranches, and citrus farms. These are further divided by political boundaries, administered by counties, state parks, and agencies such as the Florida Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service. 

Pittman provides excellent profiles of the biologists, capture specialists, and agency personnel who work together to solve the myriad problems of Florida panther conservation. We learn how they navigated swampy landscapes, monitored and captured the big cats, and analyzed their inbred genetics. Sadly, it also tells a story of how science too frequently gives way to egos and politics. 

Surprisingly, progress has been made with Florida panther recovery. The big cats have expanded their range to the north, introduction of pumas from Texas has improved genetics, and cooperation between agencies has improved—slightly. 

I worked as a park ranger in Everglades National Park and volunteered on the Florida Panther Project years ago. I left the project hopeless for the big cat’s recovery. Pittman tells a story that is much more hopeful. 

—Kevin Hansen, author of Cougar, the American Lion and Bobcat: Master of Survival