Mythical Panther Story
Chapter 4 - Time is Short
Tawny heads toward the big pine island, as
she gets to where the swamp buggy trail cuts through the cypress slough, she
looks for a place to lay in ambush. Hunger now drives her every thought. The
loss of the deer to the bear was unexpected and now her choice of a place to
den is in jeopardy. She can not trust leaving her kittens in the den alone,
if the den is in the range of this bear. She will have to decide soon, but
now she must eat. She listens in the darkness of the swamp for the sounds of
animals moving. For the longest time she hears frogs croaking and small
splashes in the swamp, as frogs chase and insects retreat in the darkness of
the swamp. Soon she hears a little louder splashing, the sound of quick
movement in the water and then quiet. This quiets the frogs, but soon they
start croaking again. Another quick splash and the squeal of a frog in pain.
and then quick silence. Tawny is not sure what is causing this, but hunger
drives her to move closer. Quietly she enters the water of the swamp. Slowly
and quietly moving ahead, the sounds of frogs begin again. Her slow movement
does not disturb the frogs and they continue their night song.
Suddenly, to her left is another sudden splash. A small three foot alligator has lunged to grab a frog and Tawny now sees it. An alligator is an unusual meal, but in her hunger Tawny can not resist. She charges the alligator, as it sees her coming it flips its strong tail to get away. The water is shallow and Tawny can follow the alligator in its escape. She catches up and grabs the alligator behind the front legs. The alligator is small enough that Tawny's jaws get a good grip on it, as she lifts it up in the air out of the water. As it flips back and forth sideways, desperately trying to get away, it tries to bite Tawny. Tawny has grabbed it in a fortunate way, the alligators jaws hit her ribs, but it can not get a grasp on Tawny. It can not turn its head and its body only bends a limited amount. It soon tires in its struggle. Like all reptiles, it is strong, but has limited endurance. Tawny carries it from the swamp. On the dry land of the pine island, the alligator will be easier to kill. Tawny must shift her bite to the neck or head to kill it. One dry land she can do this easier then in the water. She stops once to rest once before reaching the pine island, but only briefly. The alligator is heavy to carry far, but she must finish it off before it regains its strength. She moves up into the pine island and carries the alligator to a thick area that would limit its movement within the roots of the palmetto plants.
Tawny puts the alligator down against at root, but does not release it. The alligator struggles again briefly to get free, but Tawny holds on. When the alligator again tires, Tawny releases her grip and quickly grabs it around the neck. Using her jaw pressure she cuts off the alligators air and after a brief struggle, it dies. Tawny now starts to feed on the alligator, starting at the end of its tail, she gnaws through the thick hide and slowly chews her way up the tail. Using the back of her jaws to cut loose the meat, a slice at a time, she chews and swallows. This is the way panthers eat their smaller prey. Not tearing loose chunks of meat, like people expect wild cats do, they grind their way from one end to the other a rather leisurely pace. After awhile most of the alligator is eaten. Tawny moves a short distance away to rest. In the morning she will return and finish the rest before the buzzards find it. Tawny's hunger is satisfied again for a while.
At the break of day, Tawny hears the hogs returning to the pine island after a night of forging. They seem to have a routine going. In spite of the bear nearby, this still may be the place to den.
At mid morning, Tawny returns to the remains of the alligator. Already a few buzzards had landed in the trees above. Although not real hungry, she must eat more of the alligator now, or leave it for the buzzards. As she gnaws on the alligator she hears splashing in the cypress slough. Not a small splashing, but the sound of something large. She stops her eating and moves to the edge of the palmettos and looks out into the cypress slough. The bear is walking through the water heading her way. Tawny lets out a loud "yowl", hoping this will turn the bear away. The bear stops, it is looking in her direction and now is sniffing the air. Tawny blends in well with the palmettos and the bear does not see her. The bear continues a few more steps and Tawny "yowls" again. This time the bear stands up on its hind legs, scanning the edge of the pine island. Tawny moves out in the open to be seen. The bear spots her and again sniffs the air. Tawny is not even a third the size of this bear. The bear returns to its feet and continues coming to the pine island. Rather then head directly at Tawny, the bear veers to the left. Splashing on through the water it enters the pine island. Tawny can no longer see the bear, but can hear it moving in the palmetto brush. The bear is too large to pass under the palmettos, so it pushes through. Its thick hair protecting it from the saw palmetto teeth and "wait a minute" vines. Quiet it is not. Tawny can easily follow its location by sound. The bear is passing by, not confronting Tawny. It seem to be heading toward the scrub oak thicket, where the hogs are bedded. Soon she hears a hog grunt a warning and she can hear them running off, toward the smaller pine island. She hears them hit the swamp water and their foot steps splashing away in the cypress strand on the other side of the island.
The bear does not follow them. Bears in the big cypress swamp, rarely kill to eat. They mostly eat plants, bugs and carrion found in the swamp lands of the Big Cypress Swamp. Tawny now knows she can not den here. The bear has disturbed the routine of the hogs. The other animals, smelling the strong scent of the bear, will also avoid the island. Although the bear will probably move on in a day or so, Tawny can not wait, time for her kittens to come is near. So she continues her quest, not even returning to the alligator to finish it.