Daylight isn’t the only thing we’re saving this week! Yesterday kicked off the beginning of Save the Florida Panther Week, a seven day span dedicated to learning more about the threats facing big cats in the Sunshine State, and what YOU can do to help them.
Background and Threats:
Florida panthers historically ranged throughout the southeastern United States, but early persecution, hunting and continuing loss of habitat has relegated them to the southern tip of Florida. Narrowly avoiding extinction in the 1950s, recovering panther populations are small but growing, and now number somewhere between 100-160 cats.
Habitat loss continues to be the greatest danger to rebuilding panther populations today. A wide-ranging animal, an adult male can travel as many as 200 miles and still call the area home. In Florida, increased development means less room to roam for these big cats, and makes it more difficult for panthers to find prey, mates and suitable denning sites.
Collisions with vehicles is another major threat to panthers throughout the state. Last year, 16 of the 23 known panther deaths were attributed to road fatalities. Of the eight deaths that have already occurred in 2011, at least four of them were the results of run-ins with traffic.
Bad Omen or Fair Warning?
Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the sad task of declaring the eastern cougar, a relative of the Florida panther, extinct. A once-common big cat that roamed the eastern forests of the United States and helped maintain the diversity of its ecosystems, the eastern cougar had been on the endangered species list since 1973. Wildlife officials had questioned its existence for some time, but on March 2 made the tough decision to officially mark its disappearance.
Will the Florida panther meet a similar fate? Not if Defenders has anything to do with it! We will continue working to protect this iconic animal until its numbers are once again stable and healthy. YOU can help protect Florida panthers too. From slowing down on the road to storing garbage responsibly, we can all take steps to live safely alongside the big cats of America’s southeast.
This year, people are celebrating Save the Florida Panther Week all across the Sunshine State. Click here for more information.