Under Threat: The Florida Panther

Each year on December 4th, we celebrate World Wildlife Conservation Day. This day serves as a reminder of the urgent need to protect and conserve all of the unique and invaluable wildlife that live in our ecosystems.

In honor of World Wildlife Conservation Day, follow along with Extension each week for the month of December, as we highlight animals from Florida’s threatened and endangered species list, conservation efforts to protect them, success stories, and what you can do to support wildlife- before it is too late.

A Conservation Celebrity

What better animal to kick off this series with than Florida’s famed wild cat!

A close up photo of a Florida panther, a large, wild cat, with bright, amber-green eyes, and tan, russet-brown fur, and a bright, pink nose.
Photo credit: Michael Jerrard, Unsplash.

Perhaps the most well-known conservation case in the state is that of the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi). The Florida panther is a federally designated endangered wild cat that made it on the first endangered species list in 1967, prior to the enactment of the Endangered Species Act. A significant factor in the decline of the panther population was human attempts in the 1800’s to mid-1900’s to eliminate the perceived danger that panthers posed to human populations, their livestock, and game animals.

Conserving Apex Predators

Why should we care about the continued existence of large predators such as the Florida panther? Aside from their awe-inspiring power and prowess, apex predators promote and support ecosystem balance by controlling and impacting the behaviors and populations of their prey and smaller predators on the food chain. Panthers can even help control populations of non-native wildlife such as wild hogs (Giuliano, et al., 2018).

The disappearance of apex predators has ramifications down the food chain, and can even impact human communities, especially when prey animal populations increase. Greater education can help reduce fear around Florida panthers, and provide residents with accurate information to stay safe and reduce negative interactions between panthers and livestock. Check out this resource to learn how to live with Florida panthers.

Protecting the Florida Panther

An image of a large, russet-tan colored wild cat walking towards the camera.
“Cat walk”. Photo credit: Jorg, Pixabay.

So, what conservation methods are being employed to protect the approximately 200 Florida panthers that remain? Remember that protecting habitat is one of the most important aspects of conserving wildlife. Some of the critical efforts center around protecting panther habitat, by preserving land and increasing habitat connectivity. Habitat connectivity allows panthers to travel between different areas of habitat without being obstructed by dangers such as roads and highways.

This is especially true for large animals such as the Florida panther, where males require an expansive range of territory for hunting and survival. Fragmented habitats mean that panthers must often cross roads to travel, resulting in 59% of panther deaths from 1981-2017 being attributed to vehicle strikes (FWC, n. d.). The majority of those panthers are killed in these collisions before they reach the age of 4 (FWC, n. d.). A collision with a large animal like a panther does not bode well for a human, or their vehicle either.

Organizations such as Florida Forever, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation raise funding for conservation easements and state and private-funded land acquisition for the purpose of conserving critical lands for wildlife habitat.

A graphic of an animal on all fours crossing a cross walk, in a red triangle sign.
Animal crossing! Photo credit: Openclipart-vectors, Pixabay.

Wildlife Crossing!

The Florida Wildlife Corridor, spanning 18 million acres through the entire length of the state of Florida, is critical to the movement, conservation, and survival of threatened and non-threatened wildlife species alike. Wildlife crossings, such as underpasses and wildlife bridges, are another researched and documented way to help connect animals to habitat- bypassing dangerous, life-threatening roads.

These strategies often include the use of fencing to keep animals away from roads, channeling them towards safe, wildlife overpasses, underpasses, and crossings. Where Florida panthers have been able to utilize wildlife crossings, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has found that less panthers are dying from vehicle collisions.

What Can You Do to Help?

Here is a list of different ways that you can get involved in protecting the Florida panther and other wildlife species.

  • Educate yourself- learn what wildlife species live in your area, which are threatened and endangered, and why. Learn how you can change your own behavior to be part of the solution.
  • Be an advocate- share what you learn with family, friends, and beyond! Be an agent of change in your community.
  • Make your voice heard- voting and getting involved with local and state elected officials can help get conservation-minded leaders in office, and lets leaders know that the community values the protection of Florida’s wildlife species and ecosystems.
  • Support smart, sustainable, well-planned development.
  • Support land acquisition and conservation easement programs that protect critical lands and habitats.
  • Volunteer with conservation organizations to monitor wildlife species, restore natural areas, plant native plants, clean up ecosystems, and more!
  • Drive safely– respect the speed limit and drive slowly in natural areas and locations where wildlife often cross. If you see dead animals on the road, take that as a cue to slow down and be alert. Take special precautions when driving at night.

Learn More

There is so much exciting work being done in the field of wildlife conservation, and Florida offers us the opportunity to learn from many unique case studies of both cautionary tales and success stories. With greater education, advocacy, and collaborative efforts, we can protect wildlife and the habitats that they depend on- for their sake and ours!

Follow along with this month-long blog series to learn more about Florida’s threatened and endangered wildlife species, conservation efforts to protect them, success stories, and what you can do to support wildlife. See you next week!

Find Other Blogs In This Series

What is wildlife conservation, and what is Sarasota County doing to help? Under Threat: Conservation of Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Species

Resources

Giuliano, W. M., Ober, H. K., Watine, L., Boughton, R., Hellgren, E., Land, D., & Lotz, M. (2018). Managing Conflicts with Wildlife: Living With Panthers. EDIS. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/UW399

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (n.d.). Panther Biology: Life Expectancy and Mortality. https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther/biology/

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Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Ecology and Natural Resources Program
Posted: December 13, 2023


Category: Conservation, Natural Resources, Wildlife, Work & Life
Tags: Conservation, Environment, Nature, Pgm_EcoNR, Sustainability, Under Threat, Water, Wildlife


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