Florida panthers have been listed as an endangered species since the '70s, and have been threatened by everything from disease to territory loss. But now, private landowners may hold the key to taking Florida’s state animal off the list.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, revealed in a Wednesday meeting that the Florida panther population is on the rise. Officials report the population estimate ranges between 100 and 180 animals, citing efforts including genetic restoration and improved roads as reasons for the increase.
Conservationists have done much for Florida’s state animal. When it was first listed as an endangered species in 1973, only an estimated 20 to 30 panthers lived in the wild.
Now, with the panther population at a comparative high, the FWC and its partners are working with private landowners to accommodate the animal’s expansive habitat. FWC Deputy Division Director for Habitat and Species Conservation Kipp Frohlich says private habitats are necessary to foster the panther population.
“As the panther population grows and expands northward, our quantity of publicly owned lands are far less. We have some parks, and there’s a few areas, but if you look at a map they’re really spread out. So the panthers, by definition, will have to be living on private ranches, and other areas that are privately owned land,” Frohlich says.
He says FWC is working with landowners across the state ahead of the anticipated changes. “We are getting our resources further up the state so that we can be prepared for the good news that the panther range is expanding, but also be able to deal with the conflicts that arise when there are panthers in areas where they have not been," he sys.
The FWC’s goal is to have the panther removed from the endangered species list. The commission is devising a more accurate means of estimating panther population, and Frohlich adds, while panther sightings are rare in Florida, citizens should report any sighting to FloridaPantherNet.org.