Mythical Panther Story

Chapter 1 - Hunger

Life is not easy in the Big Cypress Swamp. The rains of summer bring deer fly, horsefly and mosquitoes. These bugs goal in life seems to be to get a sip of blood from any source available and that includes the panther. Hot and humid daytimes, causes the panther to hunt at night after the heat of the day has diminished and rest in the shade of the palmetto thickets during the day.

Tawny is now hungry most of the time. Extra food is needed for the developing kittens. the cypress domes and open prairies have standing water in them, making it difficult to run down prey. So Tawny must rely on stealth and ambush to catch her meals. She lays on the edge of a palmetto thicket this night, close to a game trail. Game trails develop as both small and large animals move from feeding area to bedding areas. They too feed mostly at night. On this night a raccoon has been forging for crayfish in the shallow water of the cypress dome. Feeling the bottom with its front paws and then quickly jumping on any movement it senses, this raccoon has been successful in catching a few crayfish and frogs. Not full, but satisfied, the raccoon quietly wades along the game trail toward the palmetto thicket. the raccoon knows that morning is about to break, although the eastern sky is not showing light. The moon this night started early and is already past the western horizon. It is dark, but the raccoon has good night vision. tired and wet from the nights foraging, it is moving along at a walk. It is traveling with the wind, so it can not detect any smells toward the direction of travel. This will prove to be its fatal downfall.

Tawny has been laying in a crouch for the last half hour. She could hear the faint splashing in the swamp, as the raccoon jumped towards its prey. With the wind coming from the direction of the noise, by the smell, she knows the splashing is caused by a potential meal. In the dark she can not see the raccoon and has been resisting the impulse of hunger to charge into the swamp and catch the meal. She could not do so quietly, her splashing would alert her prey and it would quickly hide. So she waits. She yet does not know what her meal might be. Too dark to see, her excellent night vision has not yet seen her prey. It could be an alligator, otter or raccoon, only time and patience will tell.

As she listens, the quiet noises are getting closer. She shifts slightly from a resting position, to a more tensed crouch. Her powerful legs will propel her in a leap of no escape for her prey. In the dark she now senses movement with her eyes. She has been lucky, picking the trail her prey is traveling, not requiring her to sneak ahead of her prey. With her years of hunting experience, her luck has been getting better and better. Her night vision now sees the raccoon. It is a large and powerful male. She knows its bite would be painful and slow to heal, so she must attack in complete surprise. She must bite it on the back of the neck or head and use her powerful jaws to crush it, killing it quickly. If this raccoon senses the attack in time, a short fight will occur. The out come will be a raccoon meal, but she could be injured, something that must be avoided, so as not to affect her future hunts.

Tawny quietly tenses in her crouch, a few more raccoon steps and she will leap. the raccoon stops, its senses say caution. It stands on its hind legs, smelling the air. Nothing, no smell, it stares into the dark. It is right at the edge of the palmettos, the palmetto branches slightly moving in the faint wind. One minute, now two, it sees nothing. The raccoon returns to all four feet and takes a step, but it lingers rather then taking another. Years of life making it cautious.

Tawny seeing the raccoon return to its feet and take a step, leaps. Her ten foot leap is timed to land where the raccoon would be on its second step. But there was no second step. The raccoon now sees movement in the air, off to the right and flinches backwards, an automatic response. Tawny crashes down, palmetto branches and splashes of mud and water. Just her left paw making contact with the raccoon. Her claws rake through fur into skin, getting a grip and slamming the raccoon to the ground. Her jaws slamming shut on air, missing the raccoon be inches. The raccoon in pain and fighting for life, stretches its neck forward and bites into Tawny's lower jaw. With a frightening yowl, Tawny pushes down with her paw and up with her body, the raccoons teeth tearing free from the force. Tawny lunges back down clamping her jaws on the raccoons neck. Applying maximum pressure, she holds as the life drains from the raccoon. The raccoon flails at Tawny with his paws, trying to break free, but this will be useless. His movements become feeble after one minute and non existent after two. Tawny senses the raccoons death and relaxes her jaws. Blood is dripping slowly from the wound the raccoon has inflicted, but soon this slows and dries on her pelt.

This raccoon will be a good meal for Tawny, filling her for several days, small enough to eat over the next few hours, not requiring her to cache it and return. A few hours later the raccoon is just about gone, just the head and a little hide and bones remains. The sun is now breaking the eastern horizon. The mosquitoes had soon found the blood and warm flesh and had come to get their own share. Soon flies and then a buzzard or two would arrive to finish off the remains. By noon nothing much, but some bones and the smell of death would remain of the raccoon. Tawny moved off from this scene. The wounds on Tawny's jaw are where she can not lick them clean, as she would normally do. This will prove troublesome in the coming days. She will need to keep flies from laying eggs in the wound. Maggots and infection is not good for long life in the Big Cypress Swamp. Tawny moves to a shady spot in the palmetto head and lays down. A few feeble attempts to lick her jaw with her tongue and she lays her head down on her front legs, closing off the wounds from the flies. A full stomach, after a full nights hunt, she sleeps. The  wounds will heal over the next few weeks, leaving scars that represent the toughness of life in the Big Cypress Swamp.

Tawny will not have to hunt for the next few days. Gorged on this raccoon she can rest a few days before hunger will put her on the hunt again.

Chapter 2