“Welcome to panther country,” Brian Kelly says when I meet him at a busy intersection in East Naples, Florida, a stone’s throw from a gas station and an urgent care center.
Kelly, a state panther biologist, points east into the sprawling subdivision where he lives. A panther was caught on camera just a quarter mile away, he says, and another one made it across the six-lane road we’re standing beside.
Yet another panther, an eight-year-old female named FP224, lives nearby. She’s been hit by a car twice, breaking a leg each time. She was treated by veterinarians and released after both accidents. To look for signs of her, we drive to Kelly’s house, next to a patch of forest where she recently denned and birthed at least three kittens. It’s the wet season, when panther tracks typically are wiped out by rain, but we get lucky.