Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in woodlands and swamps throughout the Southeast. But as the region was settled, fear of these solitary, secretive predators led to wanton killing, and development claimed their habitat. Today, the panther is recognized as Florida’s official state animal, but only 100 to 160 of the big cats remain in a single population in south Florida.
Why They’re Important
Panthers are an umbrella species: Protecting them and the vast, unspoiled, wild territory each one needs to survive—an average of 200 square miles for a single male—protects many other plants and animals that live there. At the top of the food chain, these cats also help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.
In booming south Florida—home to the only remaining breeding population of panthers—housing and highway projects continue to destroy and shrink precious habitats. Collisions with motor vehicles are now a leading cause of panther deaths.
Another impediment to panther recovery is the lack of human tolerance for living with a large predator. Fear that panthers are dangerous to people and livestock complicates efforts to restore panther populations.
Photo Credit: Glen Stacell
To: Dan Ashe, USFWS Director, Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
I am writing to urge you to take all necessary steps to conserve the critically endangered Florida panther. Specifically, we urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make securing habitat and travel corridors for the Florida panther one of its highest priorities.
With an estimated 100-160 remaining, the Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. and we have a limited window of time to protect and restore undeveloped tracts of land and provide habitat linkages before they are lost.
Plans are in the works to build new subdivisions, industrial complexes and several new highways in the rural regions of the state. These highways would run through panther habitats and public conservation lands and lead to even more development and fragmentation.
Highway deaths are already the number one human cause of mortality for these endangered animals. Increasing fragmentation of the panther's habitat would lead to even more deaths on roads. Last year, a record 19 panthers were struck and killed by motorists, more than any other year. Scientists believe that loss of panthers on roads is preventing the cats from expanding their breeding range northward.
The FWS can make sure that enough contiguous habitat remains for these majestic cats to survive and return northward into their historic range. We urge you to make that a top priority in the coming year.
Thank you for your consideration.