Wild and Crazy

Guess what happens when an eccentric ecologist and a couple of feisty backwoods boys claim that a rare Florida panther is on the attack

He remembers making the connection: "The [Miccosukee] Indians from down the street came by and said, öYour panther got away and it's sitting over by the side of the road.' We said, öWe don't have a panther.' They said, öIt's got a collar and it's missing an ear.'" The next day, June 8, David called the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Park Service and told them he thought a sick panther was attacking his livestock. "The biologist I spoke with said, öThe panther's healthy. The only thing wrong with it is you're probably feeding it,'" he recounts.

There were no killings or panther sightings over the next few days, and the Shealys thought the cat had moved on. Then Trail Lakes campers began seeing the one-eared panther. "It was coming up close to people," David says. "That worried the hell out of us because we had a camper with two little four-year-old girls out here at the time." The Shealys took action. They attempted to scare the animal away, but nothing worked.

"We tried everything," Jack adds. "We threw the firecrackers at it, shined lights at it. It would just sit there, and go away when it felt like it." On June 15 several goats and an emu were found dead. Angry calls to the park service and wildlife commission elicited a visit the following day from a passel of biologists and bureaucrats. By that time, word of the attacks had also spread to Jan Jacobson.

This goat’s film debut featured a panther attack it was lucky to survive, and though it fully recovered, its moment of terror could mean felony animal-cruelty charges for Jan Jacobson
Jonathan Postal
This goat’s film debut featured a panther attack it was lucky to survive, and though it fully recovered, its moment of terror could mean felony animal-cruelty charges for Jan Jacobson

Journeying out of Miami via the Tamiami Trail is rife with symbolism for Jacobson. Whenever he leaves his occasional Miami abode (a yard in Westchester where a friend lets him park the RV), he leaves the city where he studied ecology at the University of Miami for six years. "Upon graduation, I was to be saddled with the family's scrap-metal business for life, and I didn't want that," he recalls. So he never graduated, never obtained a degree. Instead he fled the city.

In 1980 Jacobson bought 6.5 acres in the Loop Road area of the Glades and founded the Everglades Institute. Inspiration for "the Institute," as he calls it, was his love of the Everglades and his passion for intellectual pursuits. He envisioned an educational enterprise for gifted kids, a teacher-training program, and a scientific outpost for researchers.

Jacobson is a former proponent of the environmental movement, a born contrarian (who, naturally, disagrees with that characterization), and the kind of guy who will work references to eighteenth-century economic philosophy and Socratic dialogues into a discussion about meeting for coffee. He's also an outspoken opponent of what he perceives to be the federal government's increasing trend toward socialism.

His strident voice contrasts with his elfin physique as he rails against the National Park Service's hidden agenda and those government biologists ("scientific castrati") willing to subvert objective truth in the service of an evil bureaucracy bent on stealing private land and public money. He calls most environmental activists "Gang Green," and implies they are closet communists all too pleased to cede basic rights and private land to the government in the name of politically correct environmentalism.

"These people, some of them so-called scientists from groups like the Sierra Club, are willing to defame you if you don't sing along in harmony," he snarls. "It's a nasty trend, and when you look at the kind of regulatory measures that are being imposed on American citizens in the name of öthe environment,' it's very reminiscent of prewar Germany. I'm talking about Agenda Über Alles here."

Jacobson, a bachelor who stands about five and a half feet tall and speaks in a sonorous drone, favors a durable, simple wardrobe, the type that requires little thought and less money: polo shirts tucked into polyester slacks, loafers without socks. His only concessions to vanity are a silver bracelet inlaid with turquoise and a refusal to reveal his age.

Money from the sale of the dreaded family business financed Jacobson's land purchase, after which he recruited a stable of academics to serve as his board of directors and science advisory committee. The institute, which today exists only on paper, has achieved a small measure of success, churning out proposals for better burn practices in the Everglades, among other things, plus working with elementary schools' science programs. At this point, though, Jacobson mainly writes articulate, erudite, anti-government screeds for the Everglades Institute's Website.

On a recent drive out of Miami in his second car, a battered Land Rover, Jacobson turns onto the gravel frontage road bordering the C-31 canal, just west of Krome Avenue off the Tamiami Trail. The bumpy road jostles the maps, scientific and legal papers, car parts, and .38-caliber ammunition crammed into Jacobson's vehicle. After a mile or so, huge chunks of prestressed concrete appear alongside the road -- building materials for the institute. Jacobson paid for eighteen-wheelers to truck the material, donated by a developer, from Miami to the canal, where the South Florida Water Management District agreed to let him store it temporarily. Jacobson bought a crane and unloaded the stuff himself. The concrete, some of it now crumbling, has been there since 1993.

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