📷 Florida Panther | Carlton Ward, Jr. / National Geographic

To further commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) during our Refuges for Recovery campaign, we are showcasing the story of the Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi). Although this endangered species has been successfully re-established, it is still in a critical state. 

Historic & Current Breeding Range of Florida Panther | IFAS – University of Florida

Florida Panthers are subspecies of Mountain Lion and are known for their elusive nature. They are highly independent and territorial, except when mating or raising kittens. Compared to other subspecies, Florida Panthers have characteristics of a crooked tail, unique patches on their fur, and black markings that highlight the tips of their tails, ears, and snout. They prefer warm climates like swamps, wetlands, and upland forests. In the past, their range extended beyond Florida, and many wild panthers were spotted in the Gulf Coast states, between Florida and Louisiana, and even in Arkansas. However, today, a majority of the remaining wild panthers can be found only in the southwestern tip of Florida, with an estimated population of just over 200 individuals. 

Florida Panthers have struggled to maintain their population since the 1800s, with constant fluctuations for over 200 years. They have been seen as a threat to humans, specifically to livestock, other species, and society. In 1900, there were 500 wild Florida Panthers, but they were extensively hunted and marked with high hunting bounties. Drastically, that population of 500 fell to less than 20 as they were nearly extinct in 1967. In 1973, when roughly 20-30 wild panthers remained, they were one of the first animals listed under the ESA. Although their population has improved since they gained protection under the law, Florida Panthers are still in critical need of support.

Florida Panther and cubs | Carlton Ward, Jr. / National Geographic

The Florida Panthers’ population is vulnerable to various threats, including low genetic diversity due to small population size, reduction in prey population, habitat loss due to development, mercury pollution from industrial facilities, and car strikes due to vehicle collisions. The Tampa Bay Times shares that since 2020, at least 66 panthers have died by vehicle collisions. Unfortunately, within the last few years, a new neurological disease has emerged called feline leukomyelopathy that could further harm these amazing cats. 

Florida Panther cub | Larry Richardson/USFWS

Florida Panthers require large areas of space to thrive, mate, breed, and roam freely without danger. National Geographic photographer Carlton Ward, Jr. states that a single male panther needs about “200 square miles as a home range”, which is four times the size of Miami. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin, offers a safe haven for these endangered species. The Florida Panther NWR  is closed to the public in order to support the restoration and rehabilitation of the Florida Panthers and other wildlife. Other lands conserving and providing space for Florida Panthers include the Big Cypress National Preserve, Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem, and Panther Glade. These lands are part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, an 18 million-acre statewide network of connected land and water masses that help wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. Despite all these efforts, more work is needed to protect the Florida Panther and other endangered species. 

Building new, expanding, and enhancing current wildlife conservation areas for the protection of the Florida Panther is crucial to the survival of the species. By supporting our Refuges for Recovery campaign and making generous donations to the National Wildlife Refuge Association, we can continue our work to protect wildlife and defend their home in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Florida Panther and other endangered species deserve to thrive and grow without the risk of extinction or life-threatening actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.