Last year was one of the deadliest for the Florida panther. Wildlife experts say there will likely not be as many fatalities this year, but Florida drivers should still take several precautions.
At one time, the Florida panther population spread across the Southeastern United States. Now the remaining 200 or so panthers are confined to Southwest Florida. Greg Knecht from The Nature Conservancy says habitat loss causes several fatal threats to the Florida panther.
“With growth in Florida, we add roads so there’s a potential for more vehicular fatalities. And then there’s the interspecies aggression. When we see increasing populations within a limited space, they actually start to prey upon one another,” says Knecht.
Knecht says this increase in the panther population can lead to even more collisions with panthers, which currently account for about 80 percent of panther deaths.
“Panthers need a lot of space, so that means they’re moving around quite a bit. It’s a good news, bad news story. On one hand, we’re seeing increasing numbers of panthers. But unfortunately, without additional fencing and wildlife crossings, more panthers also means more vehicular fatalities,” Knecht says.
This past week in Collier County, a Florida Panther was fatally struck by a car. The leading cause of death for panthers is vehicle collisions, with 11 out of 15 panther deaths this year being vehicle-related. Just last year, there were 42 total deaths and 32 from vehicle collisions.
Meanwhile, Kipp Frolich with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says despite vehicular fatalities, the panther population will continue to grow.
“We don’t have a way of estimating the actual number of panther kittens that are born every year. But in the last several decades, there’s been more births than deaths, which has led to our panther population growth,” says Frolich.
To protect panthers and drivers, Frolich says the FWC warns drivers to be aware of areas where panthers could be on the roads.
“In places where we do have the most panthers, we do have signs up. We ask people to keep a look out when panthers are most active. If they do have a collision with a panther, call our hotline and report it right away. Not all collisions actually result in death. Sometimes panthers are just injured, and we do make an effort to rescue them and rehabilitate them,” Frolich says.
The FWC says vehicle-related panther deaths have decreased in areas with crossings and fencing, but these efforts tend to be the most expensive in reducing collisions.