AP Exclusive: As Florida panther rebounds, study shows ranchers lose calves to the predators

Since Florida's frontier days when cattlemen drove their herds through the state's vast fields and forests, ranchers and native panthers have been natural enemies.

The ranchers seek to nurture and protect their calves, while the panthers see them as prey.

Now, with Florida panthers recovering from near-extinction, a University of Florida researcher has found that panthers are killing calves at a southwest Florida ranch in an area where the panthers are thriving.

In the past, ranchers simply would have shot panthers, but because the 100 to 180 panthers are protected under the Endangered Species Act, they have few options.

The study is a first step toward creating a new program that would pay ranchers for preserving panther habitat rather than trying to verify every calf killed.