Florida panther, © Robert Repenning

A Safe Path for Panthers

Elizabeth Fleming, Florida Representative

Three endangered Florida panthers were killed while trying to cross roads last week in south Florida. This is gut-wrenching news, especially for a species with an estimated 100 to 160 adults left in the wild, and we who spend so much time and effort protecting these big cats all feel each loss deeply. But why is this happening now, and why so many?

A Florida panther in Fakahatchee Strand (Credit: David Shindle)

Sadly, rashes of deaths like this have happened before; most recently in 2010 when three panthers were killed on the same road in one weekend. Some years, it seems that December and January are especially horrible times for panthers. One year, three panthers were killed in a row, including one on my birthday of December 29, and lasting into New Year’s Day – what an awful way to start a new year! It’s hard to predict when something like this can hit. One year, it looked like we might reach a record year of panthers killed by vehicles by the month of June. We braced ourselves — and then not another single panther was killed for the rest of the year.

Obviously, the small panther population could not withstand these spates of two or three panther deaths if that rate was consistent for the whole year. And fortunately (I want everyone to knock on wood as you read this), this terrible rate doesn’t seem to continue. But why does it happen in the first place?

I asked panther biologists if they could determine a cause for these deaths, and they said that one factor could be the water.  Water levels are up right now where panthers roam in south Florida. Roads and paths are dry spots that make panthers’ travels easier, so they are more likely to be using them to travel, and more likely to be exposed to cars and trucks. A lower water level could also be part of the issue. In another year when we had a large number of panthers killed by cars, biologists thought the drought at that time had  forced the animals to search for water sources over large areas, which meant they had to cross more roads to meet their needs.

So what is the solution? There are several. First, we’re working to improve road safety for panthers by helping communities implement slower nighttime speed zones and install wildlife underpasses and fencing. Defenders also helps fund panther crossing signs and high-tech motion sensors that warn drivers to slow down when large animals are approaching the road.

A family of Florida panthers in Picayune Strand State Forest (Credit: David Shindle)

Those steps help address areas that are already dangerous to panthers, but it’s also important to prevent the creation of new high-risk roads. That’s why we advocate for conservation-minded transportation planning that considers the dangers that motor vehicle traffic and habitat fragmentation can present for panthers.  Another fundamental piece of the puzzle is maintaining large expanses of habitat for panthers where they have a safe place to roam so that they aren’t forced to cross roads just to meet their basic needs. So we also promote projects that help restore the Everglades, support the creation and expansion of national wildlife refuges in the greater Everglades ecosystem, and work to protect connected habitats and travel corridors.

What can you do to help panthers? If you happen to live in Florida, or are visiting here, drive very, very carefully in rural areas, and stay alert, especially in places marked by panther crossing signs. Support our work so that we can continue our efforts to keep roads safe for panthers and humans. And support efforts to restore the Everglades, since so much of the integrity and natural resilience of south and south-central Florida is determined by the water supply. It affects us all, panthers, people and the incredible diversity of life around us.

23 Responses to “A Safe Path for Panthers”

  1. Sharon Yaley

    Please make it safe for these beautiful animal. People need to understand that we invade their space, they would much rather leave us alone.

    Reply
    • Louis

      But I am really worried about some other animals to like the red wolf. There are less than 100 in the wild and that are still being pocked today! I feel really bad for all the endangered animals. Just think about it, if I were an endangered animal I would feel really scared.

  2. Steph Floyd

    Just moved into a house in Avalon park situated on a 300 acre preserve and spotted a panther tonight!! Thrilled & had to do a bit of research. Could you tell me if there have been any other sightings reported in my area? I feel very blessed & humbled to see such a beautiful creature walking along my lake albeit vert brief.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Fleming

      Panthers have been documented in Seminole County and a few have been hit on I-4.

  3. Carmel Severson

    Great article Elizabeth, I had never considered our seasonal water levels actually causing panthers to change their travel routes, possibly leading them across roads more often , but it makes perfect sense. If we didnt share we wouldn’t continue to learn. So thank You.

    Reply
  4. david hoes

    I live about two miles from the area where it is hoped they will cross. Sadly, there haven’t been any sightings for the past three months. They are widening US 80, and I have been asking for a better underpass to the new panther area. The old underpass is almost impassible unless they want to swim through a tunnel.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Fleming

      John Wrublik of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports the following: “The FDOT has agreed to install a modified bridge-type underpass at the C-1 Canal. The structure will contain wide shelves above mean high water on both sides of the canal to allow panthers to safely pass under the road. The FDOT will also install about 1.5 miles of barrier fencing on both sides of the roadway adjacent to the underpass. We talked to the two major land owners in the vicinity of the underpass and they both support the fence installation.”

  5. Tube bender

    There are many instances when animals pay a heavy price for unnecessary intrusion by the humans. It’s important to provide a natural habitat to the animals.

    Reply
  6. austin collins

    Panthers are very endangered so if they are getting ran over ,even by accident, we should put up fences ( not very big ones )or even way better…. signs that pretty much mean ”stop” or, ”slow \ yield” so that many more people are aware and reminded to slow down and watch the WHOLE road.

    Ps: save the Panthers

    Reply
  7. Annie Body

    While on tour with My Wrestling Federation to Miami Florida we past, driving the opposite direction, an adult panther laying on the side of the road way on US27. This was two Friday’s ago, Oct. 12th.

    There was a mini van parked behind it with the hazard lights flashing. I noticed the large cat had it’s mouth open breathing heavy so I knew it was still alive.

    Unable to stop and offer help but wishing we could and sadden to see a beautiful Florida Panther in such distress. I have been thinking allot about this and wondering if the panther received the help it needed and if it is ok and still alive? If anyone knows anything about this please let me know. I would appreciate it. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Fleming

      I have not heard about this incident. In the future, please be aware that anything like this should be reported promptly to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via their Wildlife Alert number: 1-888-404-3922.

  8. Wild Florida

    These beautiful animals need to be protected. They play an important role of the delicate lifecycle of Florida wildlife. If they vanish, the existence of other animals can be jeopardized as well. As mentioned before, driving carefully (especially at night) can help reduce panther fatalities. Also if spotted in the wild, remember to just let them be.

    Reply
  9. plums

    I think this a beautiful idea for wildlife,the animal crossings. It should also extend in other places as well, for all wildlife. I know that all would not use it, but they would have access to it, if they choose to use it. We also need to consider all wildlife that get hit by trying to cross highways, like the deers. It breaks by heart to see that they have been hit. This is the time that they start coming out and I have already seen at least three, one being a baby. All wildlife need to be protected in all fifty states, especially around highways.
    I am aware that there a lot of reasons why wildlife change locations and changes to highways is another reason. Because of them it gives the animals no choice but to to relocate from where they were, so they need to be protected as well, everywhere.
    Although, I don’t live in Florida, we have this type of situations everywhere and it should be considered as well.
    Like ir was said, animals have to pay a heavy price for the sake of unnecessary intrusions by man.

    Reply
  10. Taki

    Please do not destroy beautiful wildlife. My heart breaks every time when I see dead animals on the roads. Cars and Automobiles are something that we invented to make our life more convenient after destroying all the forests, fields and polluting the lakes.

    Reply
  11. alabama angie

    PLEASE HELP THESE ANIMALS GOD PUT THEM HERE FOR ALL PEOPLE TO LOOK AT AND PROTECT, THESE ARE ONE PRETTY CAT I HAVE A FEW OF THEM WHERE I LIVE AND WE TRY TO KEEP THEM FROM GETTING KILL, WE ALSO HAVE BLACK PATHER’S, AND WOLF’S AND WE SLOW DOWN TO LET THEM CROSS THE ROAD WHEN WE SEE THEM, WE ARE BLESSED AND HUMBLED TO SEE THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS..

    Reply
  12. LEWIS SADOWSKY

    I FEEL THAT PEOPLE SHOULD LESAVE THESE DEFENSELESS ANIMALS ALONE, BUT IN THIS WORLD, UNFORTUNATELY THAT WONT HAPPEN, UNLESS THE AMERICANS SHOW THAT THEY CARE; BUT IN THIS WORLD

    Reply
  13. Linda Robinson

    Please implement what is necessary to protect these beautiful animals.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Jeff

    Please keep up this important work. It breaks my heart to know that such an incredible creature is this close to extinction. What a sad statement we’re making with our carelessness and selfishness. Come on, people of Florida. Urge your elected officials to do a lot more than they’re doing now to protect these magnificent animals.

    Reply
  15. Alisa H

    This is very scary, the numbers are very low and only getting lower. What are the rates of reproduction and survival of the young? (Just curios) These are very beautiful and unique creatures that we need to do everything to save, and the sad thing about it is that they are causing no harm or issues to us humans or the communities in Florida. From the sounds of this report, they’re just trying to get water. All the roads that are being built should provide an alternate safe habitat and path for the panthers in the case they should need to make it t the other side. The street signs that advise and warn drivers of the panthers crossing the world are helpful, but they are not effective enough. Not many will take care and understand the fact that we have almost lost this entire species completely. The more ways we can get over/under paths and even closer sources of water to these panthers the better. In this way it helps not only the panthers but also other species and keeps humans away from car accidents with these amazing animals.

    Sincerely,
    The Baylor Bear who cares

    Reply
  16. Louis

    Wow, I think that humans are really destroying all animals habitats and that we should stop, think about what we have done, and turn it around

    Reply

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