Did you know that there are only an estimated 100 Florida panthers currently living in the wild? At the time they were put on the Endangered Species List several decades ago, there were just 12-20 individuals thought to still exist. While this beautiful cat has been slowly making a small comeback, there are still many threats to overcome. Here’s an overview of the endangered Florida panther and what’s being done to save it.
The Florida panther is one of 32 puma subspecies. This big cat used to be widespread across the Southeastern United States, but its current habitat has shrunk to 5% of its original size. Most Florida panthers live in Southern Florida, in swampy areas like the Everglades, with occasional sightings further north.
There are many factors that have contributed to the decline in the Florida panther population ever since European settlers began to arrive in the Southeastern U.S. They include:
- Habitat loss due to destruction, degradation, and fragmentation
- Being hit by motor vehicles on roads and highways (the leading human cause of panther deaths)
- Lack of genetic diversity resulting in inbreeding and poor health
- Mercury poisoning (thought to be caused by eating contaminated raccoons)
- Diseases (including feline leukemia)
- Human resistance to repopulation efforts due to fear, intolerance, and lack of understanding
What’s being done to save this beautiful big cat from extinction? Here are some conservation efforts all animal lovers should know about.
- The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1989 to protect the panther and its habitat. This 2,400 square mile refuge is located 20 miles east of Naples near the Big Cypress National Preserve.
- The Florida Department of Transportation has installed a Roadside Animal Detection System (RADS) along a particularly dangerous stretch of Highway 41 in the Big Cypress National Preserve. Fencing and wildlife crossings in panther habitats are also being developed.
- An ongoing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Panther Restoration Plan that includes a genetic restoration project designed to increase Florida panther genetic diversity with panthers brought in from Texas.
Check out the Florida panther section on the Defenders of Wildlife website to learn more.
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