Florida panther dubbed 'Beach Boy' for trip across intracoastal waterway to island

NAPLES, Fla. A bikini-clad woman walks a Florida panther on a
leash down Naples beach, in a promotional photograph taken in the

Four decades later, a panther appears to be trying to replicate
that scene, sans woman and leash.

The young male cat has pawed and sloshed its way onto Keewaydin
Island, a skinny, nine-mile-long barrier island between Naples and
Marco Island.

It is the first time a panther has made its way to the
beach since state biologists began tracking them with radio collars in

``I'm guessing he did a combination of wading and slogging through
mud flats, but when he got to the Intracoastal (Waterway) he had to do
a little swimming,'' said Darrell Land of the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Formally, the panther is known as FP147, but Land has nicknamed the
nearly 2-year-old cat ``Beach Boy.''

An apt theme song for the wayward panther may be ``I Get Around.''

He was born about 50 miles to the east in the heart of Big Cypress
National Preserve, where many of the remaining 100 or so Florida
panthers live.

The species, due largely to dwindling habitat, is one
of the most endangered on the planet.

Beach Boy's mother died mysteriously on March 22, leaving him
orphaned sooner than when panthers are typically ready to set out on
their own.

But like most young males, he began searching for his own
territory. Male panthers need about 200 square miles of land and will
fight other panthers to the death to keep it, biologists say.

On a routine monitoring flight, Land picked up Beach Boy's signal
on Keewaydin Island on Wednesday.

``I circled three times as long just to make sure,'' he said.

About 85 percent of Keewaydin is protected by the Rookery Bay
National Estuarine Research Reserve and remains unpaved. Beach Boy was
about two-thirds of the way south from the island's northern point.

There are a smattering of homes on the island. And a prominent
Naples developer, Jack Antaramian, is proposing to build a ``spartan''
private beach club on the island with an 800-square-foot screened-in
enclosure. Collier County and city of Naples officials are considering
starting a public boat shuttle from the mainland to the island.

Land said he doesn't think the panther will stay long because there
isn't much prey or running room on the island. Perhaps more
importantly, there are no female panthers to mate with.

``I'm just hoping he makes it back across the roads when he does
decide to return,'' Land said.