It wasn’t so long ago when a lot of people thought the Florida panther was extinct. They were very nearly right. That the panther still exists at all is a miracle—the result of a desperate experiment that led to the most remarkable comeback in the history of the Endangered Species Act. Told by Tampa Bay Times reporter Pittman.
Shortsighted developers and expedient politicians loom as easy targets for Mr. Pittman’s wrath, but he’s most engaging when he unpacks the moral quandaries that surface even when people of good will are trying to do the right thing ... Mr. Pittman is something of an authority on his home state’s reputation for strangeness ... makes clear that the struggles of the Florida panther aren’t a uniquely Floridian concern ... While ecological reportage isn’t known for levity, Mr. Pittman colors his story with a newspaperman’s typically irreverent humor ... a reminder of what we stand to lose if the Craig Pittmans of the world are no longer around.
Given that this is a story of Florida, a level of absurdity is expected, if not outright required. Pittman happily obliges with a number of colorful caricatures ... Though the cast of characters becomes large as new additions join the fray as the saga goes on, distinctive and memorable portraits of each of the players keeps clear what in another author’s hands would be confusing and not nearly as readable. Pittman is at his best when retelling some of the more wacky scientific endeavors undertaken in the name of rescuing the panther, inserting humor in just the right spots to earn belly laughs ... The author’s humor doesn’t always hit its mark ... His style gets chummy with the reader, at times making the story feel like a belly-up-to-the-bar hometown tale, and in other moments, like a surrender of his authorial authority. There are many sections of the book in which the author seems to forget what he’s writing is not a voiceover script for a documentary; his dramatic closing points to chapters give the feeling that he’s setting up readers for a commercial break rather than smoothly introducing the next section ... What his style does achieve, however, is a feeling of camaraderie with the reader ... Human entitlement leaps off the page higher than the panthers themselves ... a full-length reading of Cat Tale may not be quite as hopeful and uplifting as the premise suggests, but it does tell an honest, entertaining story of an apex predator being brought back from the brink, despite all the odds against it. Pittman’s history with this story and its actors clearly shows; his research is robust and the tale is lovingly told. As only a true Floridian could, Pittman makes sense of the bizarre and clears a path through the chaos in this parable of a species holding onto life by its claws in an inhospitable world.
... fascinating, page-turning ... This sometimes disheartening, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of how the Florida panther recovered against the odds will appeal to those who enjoy reading about wildlife and endangered species.