Florida panther, © Larry W. Richardson/USFWS

Creating Safe Passage for Panthers

Record deaths of Florida panthers from collisions with vehicles are limiting panther range expansion

Why did the Florida panther cross the road? Not just to get to the other side, but to save its kind.

The Florida panther is the last subspecies of puma still surviving in the eastern U.S. Though they used to roam throughout the Southeast, today this panther is restricted to less than 5% of its original range. A massive effort has gone into keeping these big cats from going extinct. While it came close in the 1960s when no more than 20 Florida panthers were left, today that one remaining breeding population has grown to 100-180 adults.

(story continues below)Florida Panther, © USFWS

This small but growing population is in south Florida, an area with protected habitat great for panthers. But for Florida panthers to survive, the growing population needs more room – and that means moving north. In that direction lies even more habitat – swamps, forests, and prairies that will give panthers room to roam, and to establish new territories without competing with one another for resources. But between these panthers’ current habitat and the areas to the north lies a landscape criss-crossed with miles of roads. And as far too many of these endangered panthers have learned over the years, they are no match for a speeding car.

A Record Broken (And Broken Again)

Dead panther, © Heidi Ridgley

2015 marked a new record for the number of Florida panthers killed on highways: 30. In fact, this is the second year in a row that the record has been broken. Eight panthers have been killed on roads so far in 2016. Given the increase in the area’s human population, as well as the panther population, the trend makes sense. While these are alarming numbers, biologists report that more panthers are being born than are dying each year, and the population has continued to grow. That’s great news – but it means we can only keep Florida panthers on a path to recovery if we give them more room. And that means finding a way for them to move safely into central and north Florida.

How Can We Help Panthers Cross the Road?

Wildlife crossings can be an extremely effective tool in preventing panther deaths on roads. Underpasses – combined with fencing along the road to guide panthers to the crossing – are particularly useful, allowing panthers to cross the road by traveling safely under it.

Today, approximately 70 wildlife underpasses have been constructed for panthers in south Florida. And once they get there, there are wildlife crossings constructed for bears in central and north Florida that panthers will also be able to use. Right now, we just need to connect the two. And as part of the Panther Recovery Team, we are in a unique position to make a real, on-the-ground difference for panthers. Florida continues to recognize that providing safe passage for wildlife across its roads is a win-win. So wherever possible, our team is pointing the state towards new opportunities for effective wildlife crossings, and away from transportation projects that could make things worse for Florida panthers and other native wildlife.

Panther crossing

To do this kind of work, you have to play the long game. Wildlife crossing projects require years of vigilance, looking for threats and opportunities, and gathering public support. They also require input from the earliest planning stages, all the way through construction and maintenance. And frankly, they are expensive – often millions of dollars for each crossing. That makes outreach and education about this work all the more important. Counties, cities or states are unlikely to spend that kind of money unless they know the project is something that their residents want (although they do improve safety for the motoring public as well).

It’s a slow process, but this work is leading to improvements on the landscape that will save panthers’ lives for years to come. We’ve worked closely with the Florida Department of Transportation, recommending changes to their Wildlife Crossing Guidelines, and even analyzing and offering recommendations for different crossing designs. We are working to identify where panthers are most at risk, and make sure those sites take priority. And we are analyzing what routes panthers will be most likely to use north of the river, so that we can make similar recommendations to protect habitat there. This kind of landscape-level approach will help protect not only panthers, but many other species affected by habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Quiet Victories – and the Long Road Ahead

Despite the many challenges, we have been able to get some important commitments from FDOT.

Thanks in great part to our colleagues at the Florida Wildlife Federation, FDOT will take several steps to improve safe passage for panthers along a deadly stretch of I-75. There have been an alarming 14 Florida panthers killed by vehicles there since 2004, making this nine-mile segment the deadliest highway for panthers in Florida. And all because it lacks the fencing needed to encourage panthers to use the nearby underpass. Thanks to a great deal of advocacy work and a study commissioned by the Federation, FDOT has agreed to put up fencing along all nine miles of the problem area, and add two new underpasses! This project will go into place in 2016, making the deadliest stretch of highway in the state far safer for wildlife. And these aren’t the only new underpasses planned. Through advocacy efforts in coordination with our partners, we also convinced FDOT to install wildlife crossings on deadly stretches where panthers cross SR 29 and SR 82 when they are widened.

Another great win came in a different form. For some time, FDOT had been planning a bypass road around Immokalee that could take several different forms. One option was to build the road closer to the urban area, so that it will have a minimal impact on wildlife and its habitat. Others included construction right through panther habitat. We have been working for years to encourage the agency to make the right call for wildlife, especially our critically endangered Florida panthers. We spoke at public meetings, participated in workshops, sent comment letters and more. And earlier this month, thanks to consistent pressure and input from wildlife agencies, conservation NGOs and community activists, FDOT took the more harmful options off the table.

Meetings, workshops and transportation planning may not sound like much, but these improvements will save panthers’ lives. We never want to see another tragically broken record like last year. Our hope is that with more commitments like these, we can slowly but surely open the way for Florida panthers to move north, and begin to resettle their historic range.

Help Save Florida Panthers

With fewer than 180 Florida panthers left in the wild, this is one of the most endangered mammals on Earth. Help us work to protect panthers by improving safe passage across roads, securing more panther habitat, teaching local communities how to share the landscape with these animals, and more.

Support Our Work »

45 Responses to “Creating Safe Passage for Panthers”

  1. Arlene fullaway

    All wild life is precious. Slow down and watch for panthers, they have the right of way Not You!!!

    • Susan Minuto

      Thank you from Connecticut for all you do to help these majestic animals!! They deserve the right to safely live!! Floridians need to have respect to share the environment with these great cats. Needless deaths that can be prevented. Thank you for what you all do to help the panthers!!

  2. Pillyforpumas

    Congratulations Florida! Thanks from Ohio for saving our lions.

    • Debbra

      they are talking about FLORIDA PANTHERS …not LIONS …Pillyforpumas

  3. Berit Mackeed

    Sad with all the Florida Panthers killed by cars even though Panther Crossings signs are posted. Hopefully the Safe Passages will reduce the numbers of Panthers killed on busy roads.
    Someone in my Neighborhood in Central Florida said they had a Panther growling in their backyard around 20 years ago. Maybe they’ll go North again. Amazing Animals.

  4. Jean Tarnok

    Thank you to all the sensitive souls who have worked tirelessly for this most important endeavor. Once these magnificent beings are lost forever, we and our children’s children’s children and on will be the ones who have really lost. God bless us all in these efforts.

  5. Richard Spotts

    Many thanks for your great work to protect Florida panthers.

  6. Heidy

    From the other side of the world I thank you. Take care of that magnificent animals
    They have the right to live a life in a save world

  7. Peg Sharifi

    Thanks to thw FDOT for their cooperation w/wildlife defenders and conservationists in finding ways to make it easier for our beloved Florida Pumas to move to a better location where they’ll have a larger habitat w/plenty of room to roam. We truly appreciate that ya’ll are working together on this very important issue to give the Pumas a habitat that’s bigger and where they’re less apt to get in someone’s way & vice versa.

  8. Janet Robinson

    Thank all who are trying to save them. There’s another threat that is not discussed and that is the FWC, Florida Wildlife Commission. Like most state wildlife boards, it is staffed with hunters and developers and not biologists. One only has to look at the horrible 1 day black bear hunt here in Florida to see what these individuals’ interests are. There’s one member currently on the board who is trying to get the Florida Panther delisted so they can develop their SW Florida land. It’s fine to work at the federal level but don’t lose sight of state, county, and city officials that don’t care about wildlife. We need to fight at those levels too.

  9. Caroline benedetti

    please provide safe passage for these magnificent creatures

  10. Jennifer

    Thankfully there are so many compassionate and dedicated people in this fight to save this beautiful animal!
    ” Protect the Florida Panther”

  11. Dayna L Finucan

    Please think about these beautiful animals our God put on this earth for a reason. Give them some respect, we take away their home and then we kill them. I can’t imagine anyone with a heart not seeing this or the big picture. Since we have taken over the least we could do is to look out for the animals safety. If you ask me they belong here more than we do. They don’t litter, disrespect God’s beauty and the earth he has given us. These animals do and for that they deserve better. Please use that heart God gave you for good not evil.

  12. Stephanie Jenkins

    Well it makes me laugh one person on this forum says we are giving the panthers more room No no no we are trying to get them their room bk they were there first it’s people building taking over their habitat That’s y we have to protect them from roads and give them more room they are dying on roads which shouldn’t be there but they are so its us who are killing them because of expansion in this world I’m glad we have people to look out for our wild animals or other wise they would be all gone before now The little we have left we want to try and keep for our children and grand kids and so on

  13. Katie Sabry

    Thank you from faraway Cyprus , these magnificent animals are so precious and well done for your efforts so far .

  14. Michael Siegle, Ph.D.

    Florida Panthers need and deserve help. Their breeding and roaming areas must be protected and expanded. They must have unlimited and safe access to their complete territories. Simple awareness of FL Panthers presence and their plight has proved to be successful. I urge you to continue to use signage, as well as general awareness notices in newspapers and literature for their safety.

  15. Arden Allen

    If human population growth continues to overcome wildlife habitats the day will come when life on Earth will be at the brink of extinction. Life cannot be sustained on concrete and asphalt. Humans are committing mass suicide and taking everyone else with them……

  16. Hermine Willey

    If you kill or run over a Florida panther with your speeding car arrest and fine heavily and take away the car. Let the visitor hitch their way home. Too many visitors to Florida think they can do what they want like they do up north.

    • Cynthia Elia,RN

      Oh, gimme a break, always pointing fingers at Northern ers.Everybody who harms an endangered species should be heavily fined, no excuses accepted

  17. robert dowling

    as I have said on other sites for other animals of all stripes, lets do what is necessary to protect them in the usa and even around the world, they will never make it o tyheir own. after they are all gone who is left that has to be extra vigilant on their surroundings and their existence, US.

  18. Ann

    The havoc we have put upon our wildlife I uncontionable, we must help them survive an environment totally diverse of cont ions to maintain that they thrive. We have done this to them. I don’t want to live in a place that does not respect Gods creatures here before us or a place without them. After the animals, we are the only ones left, then what?

  19. Beverly

    Progress at last. You all have done a great job! Glad you can educate more people and get Florida’s cooperation. Keep going. Thank you!

  20. Luana

    This ongoing situation is such a tragedy. For a panther to die when going in search of a mate is heartbreaking. Thanks to all of you who continue to fight for the survival of these beautiful animals. We have them in Colorado and I can’t imagine a situation where they were threatened with extinction here.

  21. JOHN BENEVENTO

    When people grow up and learn that animals are a bigger part of our enviorment than humans are, then humans might think about what they are doing to the animal population. when there are pictures of Trumps kids shooting lions and then holding them up for a pciture to show their friends then we have a long way to go. These animals are the spice of our life. Humans need to start a bigger campang to stop poaching and the killing of all animals not just the endanged ones. I wish there was a way for all people to respect wildlife not just a few who seem to help more then others. some how humans need to stop and listen to their wild cousins and help them survive. humans help their own families live and survive so why can’t all humans respect the animal population like they do their own families?
    thanks for letting me ramble about helping animals survive in this new enviorment.
    sorry about the spelling

  22. Maria Celia Hernandez

    Dear , Miss. Elizabeth Fleming, I believe and know that building highways and roads for cars and trucks to pass through Wild animals’s lands it was a bad idea, and it is wrong, Nature gave those lands specifically for its living animals creation .It is a disrespect to nature, who has given human the must treasures and free gift of living animals .People should leave those lands to those creatures.The new generations deserve to see all the animals that are today in their time. It is a irresponsibility to give the back to such unique animals .Such special living animals ,Just to add a road. and destroy the lands. I want to thank you for your efforts it will mean allot to the future generations if those animals were protected and even find a place where they can be save and have the chance to survive. No animal deserve to be without protection , Because they were all given to lands that are their Habitats as we our selves have our own habitats to stick into. It is hard to believe that no one thought about making a protective line for those animals. Destroying the must unique treasures of that country and lands that should be protected . The Government should be proud of having these special animals..Please do act and make highly accountable the killing of animals in that road. If people want to go through they should be very aware that there are animals that need to be protected not left a side of that road dead. Taking the time to stop won’t kill the driver , It is serving nature and its creatures. Give these Panthers and other wild animals the chance to have new generation of wild animals.For the sake of their existence saving Nature’s must precious and wonder creatures.

    Please Protect your country;s greatest living treasures without your Wildlife land and your animals it would be a big shame for the new generations to know no body gave protection to them and rob them of their chance to see them alive and well..MCH 4-4-2016

  23. Tracy Lyn Kazmierczak

    Please pass a safe law and protect these beautiful animals!

  24. Stephanie van Canpen

    Thank you for your work. Too many animals killed by cars, people don’t watch enough.

  25. Jamie

    As a Floridian of many generations, I am grateful for these efforts and many angels protecting the Panthers, our icons in Flirida. I’d like to bring attention to the FWC who are not champions of the Panthers and have tried to reduce their endangered plan of expansion and population growth expectations. We must all pay attention to this and stand up for Our wildlife.

  26. Cherie Townsed

    The panther is a beautiful animal and one of my favorites. Well they all are, but the panther for some reason speaks to me. I live in Kentucky (mountain lions). Thanks for all you do for the Florida Panther. I hope all states will follow Florida’s lead in making travel safer. I will donating.

  27. Patty Fajardo

    Thank you for your hard work, and continue to pass safe laws to protect these beautiful animals

  28. Happy Student

    I am a floridian and I am very excited for this! I will make a project on this for school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ~a very happy student

    • GABRIELA VARGAS

      PERFECTO!!!!! MUCHAS FELICIDADES. ESTE PROYECTO ME DA MUCHA ALEGRÍA Y ME DA ESPERANZA!!!

  29. Stela Maricic

    Let’s massively support this great project and make sure that the beautiful Florida’s Panthers will have the better future ! Save the precious Florida’s Panthers NOW, they don’t have anybody but us people to protect and save them! Thank you!

  30. Maria Miranda

    Thank you, Ms. Fleming and to all who have made the effort to support this important conservationist concern. The students in my research classes are doing a project and this has been a great resource. Additionally giving them and all of us the straight facts about the beautiful Florida panthers’ plight. We all support the work you are doing!

  31. GABRIELA VARGAS

    SIGUE EL SER HUMANO COMETIENDO CRÍMENES POR DONDE PASA, DESTRUYE CON ENORME FACILIDAD Y NECESITA LEYES CADA VEZ MÁS RÍGIDAS Y DETALLADAS PARA CONTROLAR SU CONDUCTA Y REPRIMIR SUS IMPULSOS DE CRUELDAD, INVASIÓN; SUS HORRIBLES MIEDOS Y SU TOTAL FALTA DE ÉTICA Y COMPASIÓN. ALTO A ESTOS CRÍMENES Y EXIGIMOS LEYES QUE DE FORMA DETERMINANTE Y RADICAL CONTROLE LAS BRUTALIDADES DEL SER HUMANO.

  32. Dan Fuller

    A panther is living in our area. Footprints in the sand and seen crossing the road. Seems to avg. 2 weeks between visits and is enjoying meals of barncats, squirrels, and chickens while visiting, lol.

    • Nooshin Perla

      I am sorry that your barn cat are eaten by wild animal is funny to you. Mr. Dany

  33. Jenny1

    OMG what a magnificent and absolutely gorgeous animal!! We must do everything in our power and more to bring them back and keep them here, safe from humanity’s thoughtlessness!! Thank you for the work you do, Defenders, and Florida, thanks as well, but do more!

  34. Jackie Canaday

    Are there signs posted “Panther Crossing” every 1/2 to 1 mile along these sections of highways. Has there been a reduction in the speed limits there too?, Are there signs posted along the highway showing the Fine amounts which could include imprisonment if anyone pouches these beautiful cat?.

  35. Debbra

    THANK YOU ALL FOR YOURE GREAT SUGGESTIONS.I THINK MAYBE A BRIDGE GOING OVER TOP OF THIS ROAD THE PANTHERS COULD CROSS.MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA SCENCE PEOPLE DONT CARE IF THEY CREAM A PANTHER OR NOT THEY ARE STILL GETTING HIT BY CARS …the public has already pretty much proven they dont care by running over a 6 mo. old cub …..a bridge that is camoflaged .so yhe panthers feel safe and will use it ,but also OFF LIMITS BUILT IN SUCH A WAY where people can not bother the panthers ,while crossing the bridge it also might be a good tourist attraction for Florida ,,PANTHER CROSSING ,,I would come and try to see live panthers cross over my head while driving down the road ,,and feel good that they are safe no more creamed panthers ,,,it sounds cold ,but i say it to get peoples attention to the point i am trying to make ….to HELP SAVE THE PANTHERS……..

You May also be interested in