Some see the panthers' presence as a positive because it makes developing certain areas of land into suburbs more difficult.
"On the Endangered Species Act, do you see 'cowboy' or 'rancher' written on it? No, but we benefit from the protections afforded the panther," says Elton Langford, a rancher who lives to the west, near Arcadia.
But some ranchers, especially to the south, where there are more panthers, are warier, says Alex Johns, a Seminole cattleman whose family has ranched since his ancestors poached cows from the Spanish in the 1500s.
In this region, panthers occasionally eat calves. A study conducted at one ranch found panthers kill less than one percent of calves; another study found the predators killed around 5 percent.
Panthers sometimes are blamed for kills by coyotes, bears, and even buzzards, says Deborah Jansen, a Big Cypress National Preserve panther biologist who's worked with the felines since the early 1980s.
Calf loss can stir resentment and even lead to retaliation, cattleman Johns says. Making matters worse, the federal program that compensates ranchers for livestock losses because of panthers is flawed, he adds, describing a process in which the paperwork is difficult and time-consuming, and reimbursement often is not granted.
David Shindle, panther coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agrees that the reimbursement program needs improvement, and he sees the two sides as allies. "To save the panther, we have to save the rancher," he says.