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Sovereignty Report

Panther 1; People 0

Henry Lamb
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

It’s wrong! It’s just plain wrong for the federal government to force private land owners to not only allow government panthers to roam on private property, but to let the panthers feast on the landowners’ pets.

The Third Amendment forbids government from "quartering" soldiers on private property without the owner’s consent; panthers, however, and other so-called "endangered species" must be quartered and fed by the landowner - without his consent.

Jack and David Shealy’s petting zoo at their campground near Ochopee, Florida became a buffet table for a radio-collared panther released in the area by the Game Commission. Night after night, the panther jumped the fence into the petting zoo, and helped himself to goats and emus and chickens - without the owners’ consent.

Jack pleaded with the Game Commission to remove the panther, as the Commission had done when another panther pestered pets at a nearby Indian Reservation. The Game Commission refused, and scolded the Shealys for being in the area they considered to be panther habitat. Never mind that the Shealys opened their campground in 1971, and never had a problem until the Game Commission decided to release its panthers.

A neighbor, Jan Michael Jacobson, Director of the Everglades Institute (www.evergladesinstitute.org), offered to set up a video camera and a light, to try to catch the panther in the act. A videotape of the slaughter, they reasoned, would provide proof positive that the menacing panther should be removed. On the appointed night, the Shealys staked out a goat in their front yard, and Jacobson set up his camera. They were not disappointed.

The panther attacked the goat. Jacobson’s camera was rolling, even as he banged on the side on his camper to scare off the panther. The goat survived. Jacobson and the Shealys, however, were hauled into court, for conspiring to commit animal cruelty.

Tying a goat to a stake in the front yard is no more "illegal" than tying a dog to a stake in the front yard. Putting a spotlight on a goat in the front yard is no more "illegal" than putting spotlights on the corners of a house. Apparently, both become illegal if a panther attacks the goat. It would not have been illegal, however, had the attacker been a neighbor’s dog.

The difference is the "special rights" Congress has conferred on a wild animal, by virtue of the Endangered Species Act. Jacobson cites many scientific studies that conclude the panther is in no way "endangered." It doesn’t matter. Once a species has been declared endangered by the government, it is protected - whether it is endangered or not.

Had it been a neighbor’s dog that gobbled up the Shealys’ animals, the neighbor would have been responsible for the Shealy’s loss, and required to pay damages. Why then, is the government not required to pay the damages caused by the government-owned panther?

The Shealys were told that they could go to jail for a year and be fined for the offense, unless they pleaded guilty. They did. They are awaiting their sentence.

Jacobson did not plead guilty. He had done nothing illegal. He simply filmed the panther attack which he and the Shealys had asked the Game Commission to prevent, by simply removing the panther.

In the posh resort town of Naples, Florida, a six-member jury listened to Jacobson’s attorney explain how none of Jacobson’s actions were in violation of any law. It seemed like a slam-dunk for the defense - until the pictures from the videotape were shown to the jury.

The jury deliberated for six minutes, and returned a guilty verdict. The prosecution asked for a fine and jail time, and an extended probation period. The judge fined Jacobson $500 and court costs of $260.

The wrong people were on trial. The Game Commission should have been on trial for violating the Shealys’ private property rights. The jury should have seen photos of all the slaughtered carcasses of the dozens of privately owned animals the government-owned panther had killed.

Jacobson believes he has done nothing wrong. He is going to appeal. He believes the government is wrong in forcing private individuals to provide food and lodging to wild animals - without consent or compensation. He believes it is wrong to protect an animal as "endangered" when the same animal is shot as vermin in many places in the world.

Jacobson and the Shealys are more victims in the long list of people who have been damaged by the Endangered Species Act - which values panthers, wolves, and grizzly bears above human life.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International. Henry Lamb can be reached at: henry@freedom.org

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