The Effort To Save The Florida Panther

 (From my archives)

Big Guy
The Florida panther “Big Guy,” pictured here in 1987 at the White Oak Plantation, received medical care from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine after being hit by a car in South Florida. (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

Florida’s official state animal, the Florida panther, continues to be an endangered species with only between 50 to 150 animals left in the wild.  Many of the big cats are hit by cars each year.  Florida’s growing population has encroached on the panther’s historic territory. As Donna Green-Townsend reports, wildlife biologists and researchers continue to look for ways to save and increase the panther population while struggling with panther inbreeding, traffic mortalities and loss of panther habitat.

This story note:  This feature originally aired on statewide public television in 1990.  The panther “Big Guy” featured in this story has since died.  Researchers hoping to use the “Big Guy’s” sperm for reproduction efforts found that most of it was deformed from inbreeding.  Since that time, in an effort to save the species, the USFWS introduced some Texas cougars into Florida’s panther population to diversify the genetic material.

Florida panther on display for educational purposes at an Everglades Coalition Meeting in Key Largo in 1978. (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

 (from a report on January 12th, 2012) The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reported three Florida panther deaths already this year. Two were hit by vehicles and the third fatality was caused by a fight with another panther.   Last year 24 panther deaths were recorded, but FWC biologists also observed 11 radio-collared females giving birth to 32 panther kittens. Overall, the known number of newborn panthers in 2011 appears to have offset the known number of panther deaths.  Today, an estimated 100 to 160 adults of this federally endangered species live in Florida.

Panthers almost disappeared from the wild in this state when their numbers fell to fewer than 30 in the 1970s.  Collisions with vehicles continue to be the greatest source of human-caused mortality to the panther.  The FWC officials say they will continue to work with many partners to conserve and increase habitat available to panthers on both public and private lands  to try and ensure the survival of Florida’s official state animal.

People are encouraged to report sightings of an injured or dead panther by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.