Longform

Florida Panther's Return Spells Doom for Gladesmen

"No good those cats ever did nobody," Jack Laban says before spitting onto the sand in the Big Cypress Preserve.

Laban and other rural Florida residents say the Florida panther's rebound is destroying their way of life. Gladesmen believe a monster cat created in 1995 to save the species is bigger, more aggressive, and multiplying rapidly.

But some wildlife officials maintain the problem is all in their heads. "When people say they're seeing all these panthers on their property, very often it's the same one coming back again and again," says Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They're notoriously overcounted by people."

It's a clash pitting man against man's efforts to preserve nature.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.