Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What do you know about panthers?

Florida panther (Wikipedia).

Until my frequent correspondent, Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, emailed me today regarding the deaths of a couple of Florida panther kittens, I’d not given much thought to that species of wildlife.

I hastily turned to Wikipedia for help and discovered that panthers are a subspecies of cougar, also known as mountain lions, pumas, and catamounts. Wiki adds: “but in the southeastern United States and particularly in Florida, it is exclusively known as the panther.

With that bit of background on this particular species, let’s return to Jamie’s message that warns of panthers in peril:

Dear Virginia,
It’s a sight that would break your heart.

Two panther kittens, each only four months old, lying dead by the side of a Florida highway - the victims of an August hit and run.

Discovery of the kittens’ broken bodies put the 2014 death toll on track to set a new and heartbreaking record.

Your urgent support to Defenders will help us save panthers, as well as other vulnerable wildlife like wolves and manatees.

The kittens were the 15th and 16th of these majestic cats killed by motorists this year. And since then, reports have come in of two more highway panther deaths, making the grisly total one fatality short of tying the record. This is not a record any of us want to see beaten.

Once roaming throughout the southeastern United States, today the Florida panther population is restricted to less than five percent of its historic range in south Florida. Persecution, hunting, land clearing and other activities drove panthers to near extinction. By the 1950s, fewer than 20 animals remained.

Thanks to your support, we’ve helped rebuild panther numbers, but they are far from safe. Today, fewer than 200 of these beautiful animals survive in the wild.
But with your help, Defenders is leading efforts on the ground to save panthers by:
  • Working to restore funding to Florida’s land acquisition program, Florida Forever, through the recent passage of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment to the State Constitution, a measure that designates billions of dollars over the next 20 years for natural resources, wildlife and habitat conservation;
  • Advocating for expanding national wildlife refuges and other protected habitat in Florida;
  • Educating motorists to “give panthers a brake” by driving more slowly in panther territory;
  • Pressing for installation of wildlife crossings along dangerous road segments;
  • Improving landowner incentive programs to conserve and restore important panther habitat and travel corridors; and
  • Stopping development projects that would severely fragment and threaten panther habitat.
These heartbreaking deaths are a stern reminder that our work is far from done. We can have a world in which people and panthers thrive but only if you and I act now.
Thank you for all you do.

Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife


  1. Panthers need public support which is dropping due to various reasons (e.g. panthers killing cattle, pets, and personal livestock and seriously threatening people). The first attack since the 1800s happened to a person this year near the Kissimmee River. This very well may be due to this species being currently managed at 2X the natural carrying capacity of the lands available to it in So. Fl.

    Providing more panther crossings at 4,000,000 dollars a piece and emergency medical services to injured panthers might not be the smartest move for maintaining public support since all that does is make the overpopulation problems much worse over time. That facilitates more negative interactions with people who then pressure high level officials to take action against these dangerous cats that are perceived to be seriously bothering/endangering people and things they care deeply about more and more lately.

    The best solution may be to manage the species so that their numbers don't exceed what nature's food supply can provide them far away from private residences and cattle operations and cessation of expensive counterproductive panther under or overpasses.

  2. Hi Gladesman, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment, but your information seems to contradict that from Defenders of Wildlife. Can you back up your arguments with proven facts?

  3. I feel obliged to challenge Ms Rappaport's claim that "... today the Florida panther population is restricted to less than five percent of its historic range in south Florida."
    This claim by Defender of Wildlife's president doesn't seem to be near accurate when one views a google earth image of So Fl (I consider So Fl all land South of Lake Okeechobee).
    Currently panthers are known to be using the vast lands of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, all other public lands plus many lightly developed residential areas plus all the cattle lands So of Lake Okeechobee which look to encompass more than 50% of the landscape between So Florida's East and West coasts.
    In fact all the acreage So of Lake O add up to about 6 million acres and the shocking fact according to US Fish and Wildlife Service panther acreage requirement data is that even to house 160 panthers in a sound manner it takes 12 million acres.
    To me it is very sad that this is allowed to continue since all the experts this situation only leads to panthers killing each other for territory - the 1st or 2nd highest cause of panther mortality.

  4. Gladesman,

    Please forward your complaints to the following address:

    Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.

    Defenders of Wildlife
    1130 17th Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20036

    1. Trust me - Defenders leaders and I at least at the local level have interacted with each other for many years. That interaction over time has actually lead to a better mutual understanding.

  5. I would suggest downloading google earth to your pc if u haven't installed it already. It's easy to do since I a pc illiterate could do it. Here is a link just in case Once u have it u can zoom in to the area of Florida South of Lake Okeechobee and see all the open lands between our East and West coast. I have frequented these very wild lands between the coasts for over 50 years and have a fair idea of how vast they are compared to more developed areas.

    I also have worked for the last 16 years on myriad issues with agencies concerning conservation and public access issues. I do not have a gis program that would facilitate exact measurements of acreage but once u view google earth u will understand exact measurements to question the 5% figure are not necessary.

    As to my 2X capacity claim part of the basis for that is based on the following government document link and the excerpt from it

    Pg 19 under 4.1.1 go down and read from line 11 to 14 which explains somebody (Kautz et al (2006) knew panthers were at or very near carrying capacity back then. Here's the excerpt below :

    Kautz et al.
    (2006) estimated that existing panther habitat could support 79-94 panthers. Based on the
    2002-2003 field count by McBride (2003) of 87 panthers, the existing habitat south of the
    Caloosahatchee River may be at carrying capacity.

    As to my other theories expressed they are my personal views based upon years of observing and participating in agency decision making.

    Average folks sometimes are limited as to information sources upon which to form their opinions. They go online seeking info and usually the results of searches that pop up first are the heavy hitters (e.g. USFWS, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon etc.) so to speak that know how to cause that to happen in cyber space. So, their opinions substantiated or not are absorbed thus opinions formed unless one goes all over the place to find the other side of the coin which takes many hours, days etc.

    As to the person attacked by a panther - this link may help excuse the bit of attitude in my comment to it due to being upset over agency downplay of the attack. I've known the man for 20+ years and 100% believe his report even though his delay in reporting it prevented it to be formally documented by FWC in Fl.

    Truth in advertising mandates I must disclose I am a deer hunter that enjoys our remote areas not only for hunting but mostly the sheer beauty they have allowed me to enjoy for decades (5 and still counting luckily).

    I just look to assist folks to possibly view these type issues from varied perspectives to gain better understanding of them.