Mythical Panther Story

Chapter 3 - Time to Den

It's been several days since Tawny has eaten. She has been following an instinctive urge to travel. She senses it is close to time to have her kittens and she need a protected place to den. This place needs to be dry and thick enough for the kittens to be hidden while she hunts for food. It also needs to be in an area where she can find her meals quickly and return to the kittens. This is what has been difficult, There have been dry pine and thick palmetto areas, she has traveled through, but none of these areas were plentiful with game. She has not found what she needs and this has kept her traveling rather then hunting.

Hunger is forcing her to slow, the lack of food has sapped her energy, she knows she must eat soon. In the heat of the day she rests. Laying in the shade of a myrtle bush on the edge of a palmetto thicket, she naps. The slight wind blowing in from an cypress dome, passing over water and providing a little coolness in the heat of the summer swamp. As the heat of the day passes and the sun is right at the horizon, Tawny hears a scratching in the palmetto brush. Something is brushing against the dead dry branches on the palmettos as it moves here and there. Tawny can not smell what it is, the wind is coming from the other direction. The noise is close and faint, but definitely some animal in the brush. She intently watches. Soon out of the shadow of the palmettos, she sees a armadillo nosing around. Not a favorite meal, but one that is easy to catch and just what she needs right now, with her energy down.

She immediately rushes toward the armadillo, just as she reaches it, the armadillo hears something coming. Frightened it jumps straight in the air. Catching Tawny by surprise she runs by and underneath its jump. When the armadillo hits the ground it makes another small leap and then runs toward the palmettos. Tawny makes a quick turn and runs after the armadillo. The armadillo, with its poor eyesight runs right into a palmetto stump, bouncing off of it. Stunned for a second, Tawny is on it, trying to clamp her jaws on its back. The armadillo flips its body closed in a circle and then open again, the armored shell of the armadillo making it slippery, it slips from Tawny's mouth. It hits the ground and is running again, its into the palmetto thicket and freezes hidden in the grass. Tawny quickly leaps to where she last saw the armadillo, not there, she quickly makes a short pounce to a new spot in the palmettos. Again and again she does this and soon she lands close to the armadillo and it spooks and runs again. Tawny now pounces on the then running armadillo, using her weight and body to slam it to the ground. Holding it down, she grabs it by the head and quickly kills it. A lot of energy expended for a small meal, but hunger and the need for food must be satisfied. She feeds from the under belly of the armadillo, not eating the hard outer shell. Soon the meal is done and she moves on in her quest for a den.

Its dark, but the moon is rising, the fresh meal and the cooling of the day to night has given Tawny new energy and she moves rapidly in her search. She travels skirting the Cypress Domes, sticking to the edges of pine and palmetto heads, she travels always smelling the air. She passes several scents, but they are faint and probably old. She now comes to an old swamp buggy trail. It passes through a large pine island. Tawny follows this trail, it is easier to walk in the open trail then in the thick palmetto brush and she smells the scent of other animals, showing they also find it easier travel. One scent is very strong, deer. A deer has passed, not long ago, Tawny's hunting experience telling her, she can catch up to it and surprise it. A deer would provide satisfaction of her hunger for a week. She travels quickly, but quietly, the scent getting stronger and stronger. Soon she slows, she knows she is very close to the deer, the scent is strong. She must let her keen night vision locate the deer and slip ahead of it for ambush. A deer also has good night vision and hearing, so she can not just slip up on it. Ambush is the best way.

Tawny sees movement, ahead on her right side. The old buggy trail has turned slightly to the right and the deer is still following it, slowly browsing on vegetation. Tawny slips into the palmetto brush, moving stealthily, but as quickly as possible, she circles the deer and lays downwind, close to the buggy trail. Soon she sees the deer moving slowly toward her on the buggy trail, she tenses in her crouch, waiting to the right time to leap. When the deer is close, she leaps into a run. The deer startled, snorts loudly and spins to run, too late, Tawny, leaps on the deer's back and grabs its neck in her jaws. The deer tries to shake free and run, by the panthers weight is too much and it stumbles and falls. Kicking with its legs it tries to break free, but Tawny has a good grip and is crushing the deer's windpipe and it can't breath. A few minutes and the deer stops thrashing, soon its life is gone and Tawny relaxes her jaws. Over the next few hours, Tawny feeds on the deer. Gorging herself, she stops and rests, then eats a little more. She now takes her paws and rakes dead palmetto branches and pine needles over the remains of the deer. She covers the deer, so she can return and feed on it again. The vegetation covering the deer will keep the vultures from finding it and helping them selves to the deer. This is good for Tawny, she now can travel and search for a den with out having to hunt, She can return in a few days and gorge herself again. She rests a few hours and then continues her quest.

Tawny traveled on along the buggy trail. Leaving the pine and palmetto head, the trail crossed first an open prairie. The prairie, covered with muhly grass, thin bladed about a foot high, the grass covers most of the open prairies in the Big Cypress Swamp. Interspersed with the muhly grass is myrtle brush and small cypress trees. This blend seems to be favorite habitat for the white tail swamp deer. It provides enough cover for the deer to feed, but is open enough for them to see danger before it is too close. Close to the sides of this prairie are cypress strands. The buggy trail follows the strands to where they meet and the trail crosses on through the strand. The loggers of the 1940's had cut through the strand in their harvest of cypress and pine trees. This meeting of the two strands forms a natural funnel for deer and other game to travel. Tawny notes the many scents of other animals as she crossed the strand on the buggy trail.

Coming out of the strand, she sees a large and thick pine and palmetto island. Interspersed are scrub oak thickets, a favorite bedding spot for wild hogs. As Tawny approaches the island, she detects the smell of wild hogs. This may be the place she seeks for a den. A thick brushy area on the edge shows promise. The natural funnel of the cypress strands would provide a natural place for ambush. The thick scrub oak thickets, a place that attracts wild hogs. Tawny decides to explore the island. Quietly slipping into the palmettos, she discovers it is crises crossed with game trails. She follows one that leads into the heart of the island. This trail has the scent of other animals that recently passed. Slipping amongst the palmettos and "wait a minute" vines, the trail sometimes resembles a tunnel under the brush. Wild hogs are narrow animals with thick hides and long course hair. They easily push through the palmetto bushes down low. From above, thick palmettos look impenetrable, but from low at animal height, near the ground, with the trunk and roots above ground and the branches growing upward, it is open and passable for animals.

This allows Tawny to travel quietly out of sight. She slowly explores the pine island, an opening here, a scrub oak area there, the recent scent of other animals almost every where. This seems to be the spot to den. She moves to a shady spot on the edge of the island. Laying down to nap and rest in the heat of the day. As the sun approaches the horizon, Tawny hears the grunting sounds of hogs in the pine island. They too have been napping and are waking up to travel to their feeding area in the evening. Tawny listens as the hogs move toward the cypress strand. Normally she would move ahead and ambush one of them, but she has a deer cached and hunger is not driving her instincts. She knows if she is going to den here, she must save these hogs for a future meal and she must remain concealed from them, so as not to change their habits.

After darkness comes, she slips off the pine island to continue her exploration. She travels on beyond the pine island, across  a small prairie to another smaller pine island. This island also has the scent of other animals. She goes on beyond it and another cypress strand leads into it, from the other direction. another natural trail for animals to follow. She circles around the small pine island and heads back toward the larger island. This has taken her most of the night and she now returns to the lower edge of the big pine island. She lays down to rest. She wants to see if the hogs return and where they come from. She lays in wait, resting and listening. As the sky beginning to lighten in the east, she can hear the sound of hogs walking in the water. Sounding a lot like a dog lapping water out of a puddle, Tawny is sure it is the hogs returning. They are not returning on the same path they left, but are returning from the same direction. Tawny moves down wind and lets them pass, listening as they return to the same spot they bedded in the day before. Tawny now knows this is their routine. She can ambush them in the cypress and not disrupt where they bed. The pine island looks like a good place to den and have her kittens. As the sun rises, Tawny rests, she will lay up in the shade until late afternoon and then return to the deer she cached for a meal.

Late in the afternoon, Tawny rises and heads back through the cypress slough. She travels slowly, saving her energy. Hunger is now driving her and as she gets closer to the deer cache she quickens her pace. Suddenly she hits a strong smell that stops her in her tracks. Its a smell she has smelled before, danger, she cautiously continues, the smell getting stronger as she closes on the deer cache. The sun has set below the horizon and it is dusk. The low light and the strong odor causes Tawny to continue a step at a time. She now is in sight of the deer cache. A Bear is feeding on the deer. Tawny has seen other bears in the swamp and has always given them wide berth. She is not sure what to do. Hunger tells her to challenge the bear, but instinct tells her to remain hidden. The bear has almost finished the deer. It must have found it, not long after Tawny cached it. The bear, unlike the panther, would remain at the deer until it is gone. Feeding and resting it would remain at the deer keeping all other animals away until the deer is gone. The bear would lay on the deer, if necessary to keep the vultures off of it. Turkey vultures were in the limbs above the deer watching for a moment to fly down and get a bite. Now that it is dusk, they will roost in a nearby dead tree and return in the morning. Tawny is now sure her meal is beyond reach. She must hunt tonight to take care of the hunger her kittens cause. Their are almost fully developed and time is near for their birth.

Chapter 4