Mythical Panther Story
Chapter 6 - Preparation
Tawny continues to explore the hammock. It is mostly a dark
twilight, the light filtering past the leaves high in the canopy of old oak
and tropical trees. On the west side of the hammock, not too far from the
raised mound, the tree canopy is thinner, allowing light to penetrate the
dark twilight. The high over head sun penetrates enough for saw palmettos to
grow. This will be a good area for Tawny to have her kittens. The thick
palmettos will provide cover for them while she hunts, a safe place for them
while she is gone. She travels south, discovering more and more hog rooting,
also along the way she discovers a mix of smells of other animals. Each of
them must also view the hammock as a safe place to live. This will no longer
be true, now that Tawny is settling here for a while. She must eat well to
support the kittens and not many animals will be safe from her hunger.
Now that Tawny has decided this hammock is the place to raise her young, she starts to mark her territory. She rakes some small tropical trees to the ground, bending but not breaking their trunks. Her claws leave large scratches on the trunks of these small trees. Notification to other panthers that Tawny has claimed this territory as hers. She will defend her kittens with her life and not many other animals will challenge that except for a male panther. A male panther knows Tawny will not breed again until her kittens are raised and on their own. So to ensure his own genes will survive, he will kill the kittens, if he finds them. This will allow Tawny to come into season again, and he will impregnate her to pass his genes into the next litter of kittens. This is a harsh reality of panther life in the Big Cypress Swamp. Tawny must chose her hiding spot carefully to ensure this will not happen.
Tawny is now big and sluggish, her kittens expanding her body to the point she tires easily. This is affecting her hunting ability and she can only run in short bursts. In the next few days the kittens will be born. If she can kill a deer and cache it, she can rest after the kittens are born, allowing time for recovery from the physically taxing labor of birth. Tawny moves from the hammock. It is now nearing sundown and Tawny moves toward a cypress slough, a more likely spot for deer to pass. As she passed a game trail, she gets a strong smell of deer. A deer has recently passed or is nearby, so she stops and listens. Smelling the slight wind, she can scent the deer, it must be close, but out of sight in the cypress trees and myrtle brush. She slowly stalks into the wind, moving as quietly as she can. She needs to get as close as she can undetected to run down the deer in her sluggish condition.
A pair of doe deer are grazing on the edge of the cypress slough. As most swamp deer do, they spend most of the time looking in direction of any sounds. The actual grazing is done by lowering their head and snipping off a piece of vegetation with their front teeth and quickly raising their head and looking around for danger. A pair of deer doing this is especially difficult to stalk. Tawny's only chance is if the deer are distracted by a sound unrelated to her and she is able to get within a distance she can run one of them down. As the sun is reaching the horizon, other animals of the swamp begin to stir. Their movement causing sounds that distract the deer. A whip-o-will starts calling close to the deer, causing them to look toward the sound. This is Tawny's chance to move up on the deer and she does so stealthily quiet. The deer having heard a whip-o-will many times before, soon ignore the bird. Off in the distance Tawny hears a faint whiny sound of a swamp buggy. As the buggy gets closer, the deer although not frightened, are looking in the direction of the sound. This allows Tawny to continue her stalk. As the buggy noise gets louder, it seems to be approaching the structure that Tawny had seen earlier. The deer are intently looking in its direction, distracted by the sound, as it has gotten louder. Tawny has slipped very close to the deer and is ready to make her final charge. Just then the buggy sound stops, having arrived at the structure. With no sound to distract them, the deer are now paying more attention to their surroundings. Tawny has frozen, she is close enough that the least little sound from her will draw the deer's attention and they will be gone before she can charge.
One moment, then two, the deer are starting to move further away from Tawny. Just then a loud bang comes from the buggy as one of the men unloads a box and drops it against the bumper. This noise distracts the deer and Tawny leaps after them. The deer reacts, but too late for the one closest to Tawny. She leaps on its back and grabs it by the neck. the deer goes down to the ground under Tawny's weight. The other deer has made several leaps and is now running with its tail raised in alarm. The deer under attack is kicking its feet, but hitting only air, as Tawny's body is laying on the deer as she applies greater pressure to its neck. Soon the life is gone from it and Tawny relaxes her grip. Man's presence has influenced nature again, as mans presence has always done. This is to Tawny's favor, but not to the deers. It was not a planned interruption by man, man is also a natural inhabitant of nature, just as the whip-o-will, made a sound distracting the deer, man had also made a sound distracting the deer. This is a natural happening of nature, not interference in the round of nature.
After a brief period of rest, Tawny drags the deer toward the hardwood hammock. Stopping to rest several times, Tawny has entered the hammock and stops to feed on the deer. After a bit of time, Tawny continues to drag the deer further into the hammock. She finds a suitable hiding spot and caches the deer, covering it with leaves and small branches. She now rests, not too far from the cache to protect it. Time is close for the birth of the kittens and Tawny can not afford to loose her food at this point. Tawny sleeps, but not soundly, an urge to create a den is strong and can not be ignored any longer.