The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. with as few as an estimated 120-160 panthers remaining in the wild. On a positive note, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports fewer panther deaths were reported in 2013, a female panther was successfully released back into the wild and there was a significant increase in public participation reporting panther sightings last year.
This is a good news/bad news scenario. The bad news is 20 panther deaths were documented by FWC in 2013. The good news is that is fewer than in 2012 when 27 panther deaths were documented by FWC. The bad news is that the majority of the deaths (15) were not due to natural causes, they were caused by vehicle strikes on highways. The good news is FWC documented 21 panther kittens born in 2013.
Two panther siblings, a brother and sister, raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee after being rescued as kittens in 2011 were released back into the wild in 2013. The female was released in January in the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County gave birth to a kitten in June. Unfortunately, her brother, released in April in the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County, was found very lethargic on January 3, 2014 and after being taken to a veterinary clinic died the next day.
“Forty years ago when the Endangered Species Act was passed, some people wondered if any panthers remained in Florida,” said Carol Knox, head of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section in a FWC press release. “Where once a sighting of a panther was almost unheard of, today, more and more Floridians and visitors are having the thrill of seeing and even photographing this elusive cat in the wild. This demonstrates the great progress Florida has made in conserving its panthers and the effectiveness of our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and others that work with the FWC on these efforts.”
It is encouraging to note that more than 1,100 panther sightings were reported statewide since the FWC's online site MyFWC.com/PantherSightings launched in August of 2012 despite the fact that only five percent of the sightings were confirmed as panthers over the course of a year. Participation of the public is vital to the management of the species.
More information about Florida panthers can be found at FloridaPantherNet.org.