Elizabeth Fleming, Florida Representative
With an estimated 100 to 160 animals left in the wild, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the United States, and the last surviving puma subspecies in the eastern U.S. Once ranging throughout much of the southeastern part of the country, the panther has been restricted to a fraction of its historic range by past persecution and today’s unchecked development. Highway expansions continue to sever panther habitat, and collisions with vehicles take a terrible toll on these wide-ranging cats each year – a record 19 Florida panthers were killed while trying to cross roads in 2012. And since urban and suburban areas now border panther habitat in many locations, human-panther interactions are on the rise.
The economic downturn provided a respite from the rapid development that had been gobbling up panther habitat. But now that the economy is picking up, plans are underway to build several new highways across rural parts of Florida that would fragment panther habitat and lead to more development and additional deaths on roads. New subdivisions are under construction, large scale developments and towns are being planned and lands important to panthers are currently offered for sale.
We have a limited window of time to protect and restore undeveloped tracts of land and connected habitat before they are lost forever. Right now is the time to act. That is why Defenders is launching the “Give Panthers a Brake” campaign — to raise awareness about the plight of the critically endangered Florida panther. We want to highlight the major threats to these beautiful felines: loss of habitat, collisions with vehicles and lack of tolerance for living with a large predator. The more Floridians know about these threats to their State Animal, the better chance we have to ensure a future for these majestic big cats.
To help raise awareness about Florida panthers, we’re kicking off this campaign at the home of Florida’s aptly-named pro hockey team: the Florida Panthers! We’re trying to raise enough money for a huge advertising blitz in the stadium throughout the month of March. We’ll be able to place our message on the scoreboard, the giant video screen at the entrance, even on the radio during home games, all to get the word out that the real panthers – the four-legged ones – need a BRAKE!
Another big part of this campaign is to reduce the number of panthers killed on roads each year. Defenders is working to make existing roads safer for panthers to cross, and to prevent new roads that would sever important conservation lands and wildlife travel corridors. And we are encouraging Florida residents and visitors to remain alert, obey speed limits and watch out for wildlife while driving at all times, but especially at night when panthers are most active and visibility is low.
We also recognize that helping people coexist with the Florida panther is vital to building the acceptance and support needed to save this subspecies. Through partnerships, education, research, outreach and advocacy, we work to increase understanding of these wild predators to help people and panthers share the landscape.
The last piece of the puzzle is giving Florida panthers more room to roam! We are asking federal agencies to make it a priority to secure habitat and travel corridors for panthers by creating and expanding new national wildlife refuges and offering incentives to private landowners to ensure that the lands panthers need the most will never be developed.
There are plenty of ways for you to get involved in the Give Panthers a Brake campaign, too — click here to learn more! Together we can make sure the Florida panther can continue to be an icon of the Florida landscape for generations to come.