On December 7, an 18 month-old female Florida panther was found shot dead in Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County. Wildlife agencies immediately began an investigation, and Defenders of Wildlife is contributing funds to a reward established to help find the person responsible for shooting this young panther.
With a population estimate that ranges from 100 to 160 adults in a single breeding population in south Florida, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered animals in the country. Every individual is vitally important to the very small population and losing a female panther nearing breeding age – right in the heart of public conservation lands – is a tragic loss.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are asking for help from the public with this investigation. Anyone with information that leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, a civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property of the person responsible for killing this panther may be eligible for a reward. People providing information can remain anonymous by calling the FWC at 888-404-3922, texting Tip@MyFWC.com or going online to MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert.
Extensive development and road networks have destroyed and fragmented panther habitat and panthers must cross dangerous highways in their search for food and mates. Any increase in the panther population will depend on the ability of these cats to move safely northward from south Florida back into their historical range in the Southeastern U.S.
For wide-ranging Florida panthers to have a chance at recovery, we need to secure more large tracts of native habitat connected by travel corridors and help people learn and understand how to share the landscape with them. Defenders serves as the only conservation representative on the Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team formed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to focus on reaching these goals.
Florida panthers need more room to roam. If you would like to help, please send a message to Department of Interior Secretary Jewell and FWS Director Ashe requesting that they make protecting more habitat and travel corridors for the Florida panther a high priority.
The death of this young panther is a serious blow to the subspecies. Let’s hope for brighter news for these endangered cats as this new year moves forward.
Elizabeth Fleming, Senior Florida Representative