August 8, 2016
The Florida panther once ranged throughout the southeastern United States, but now survives in a tiny area of South Florida representing just 5 percent of its former range. It was listed as an endangered species in 1967 because of habitat destruction and fragmentation through urban sprawl. Large numbers of panthers died as the expanding network of roads connecting Florida’s rapidly growing human population spread throughout its range. As of 2011, there are only 100 to 120 panthers left.
As Florida’s panther numbers plummeted, the state’s human population nearly doubled over the past 30 years. Recent development patterns pose extreme threats to panthers. As the Florida coasts approach full build out and have become unaffordable to most people, development has moved inland to the same places panthers retreated to as safe havens decades ago.
A NEW CHAPTER IN SAVING FLORIDA PANTHERS
Saving Florida Panthers has long been a shared goal between the Center and the Florida Panther Society. With the Society winding down, we’re honored that they’ve chosen us to carry on this important work to protect and conserve one of the most awe-inspiring wild cats on the continent. Learn more.
A reserved, stealthy predator of enormous physical grace and power, the Florida panther is one of the most majestic large felines in the wild. While jaguars roamed as far east as Louisiana, and pumas were widespread from the East to the West coasts, today the Florida panther is the only large feline remaining in the Southeast, and it’s separated from western puma populations by more than 1,000 miles. Once found throughout the southeast United States, the Florida panther now occupies only a small area of South Florida, about 5 percent of its former range, and it numbers just 100 to 120 individual cats.
By far the greatest threats to Florida panthers are habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation — all driven by Florida’s burgeoning human population and the developments and highways that accommodate it. Without room to roam, male Florida panthers clash, often with fatal consequences; with its restricted size and absolute isolation, the panther population remains particularly vulnerable to fatal diseases and parasites. Roads, besides slashing through precious panther habitat, also directly kill the great cats through vehicle collisions. But Florida development and road-building can only increase as humans expand; already, numerous new towns are planned to be built inland from the state’s southwest coast.
For the Florida panther to survive — much less recover — it needs federally protected critical habitat, as well as reintroductions to additional habitats in Florida and the Southeast. The Center petitioned for the protection of roughly 3 million acres of critical habitat in September 2009, but early the next year, the Obama administration denied our petition — so the allies sued, and when the lawsuit was struck down, they appealed. In 2011, they also petitioned to reintroduce the panther in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia and northern Florida. That petition was denied, but they won’t give up on earning this species the room it needs to roam and recover, and they have won several victories defening its habitat, such as a 2014 settlement to significantly curtail damaging off-road vehicle use in Big Cypress National Preserve, where the panther roams.