Just a few years ago panthers in South Florida were hard to find. But now, after state intervention, they’re numbers are up and the big cats are getting cramped. Increased inbreeding, territorial fighting, and human encroachment are prompting Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission talks about transferring a few female panthers from South to Central Florida.
“Male panthers are just built to travel. That’s something that’s natural in their behavior and that’s a mechanism that normally prevents inbreeding. The females on the other hand don’t travel far from where they were born so they just don’t have that natural tendency to travel very far.” Says FWC’s panther biologist Mark Lotz.
There is some concern about the move. Some believe if the panther population gets too expansive, farmers’ livestock will be at a greater risk. But Lotz says keeping the panthers confined to South Florida would make population recovery impossible and regardless of where they’re placed, human contact is inevitable. By spreading the panthers out, Lotz believes inbreeding could be curbed. One solution Lotz agrees with is public education.
“You need to have the public onboard when you do something like this. If they understand that this repopulation effort, but they’re still free to use the land the way they always have to go hunting or fishing and to be aware that they’re there. That’s a big part of the equation.” Says Tallahassee Museum’s Animal Curator Mike Jones. The museum has two panthers in captivity.
The panther transfer is still only in the discussion phase. No dates or release locations are set.