Unfortunate weekend for panthers shouldn't reverse recent population growth
Monday, May 24, 2010
Media contact: Gabriella Ferraro, 772-215-9459; Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130
Three panthers in three days met untimely ends on
U.S. 41, a highway that cuts right through the middle of panther
habitat in Collier County. On Sunday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) found a 6- to 8-month-old kitten that
was hit early that morning. Officials with the FWC believed the
mother of the kitten could be close to the highway and stepped up
law enforcement patrols in the area Sunday.
The panther population has increased five-fold
since the 1980s, when the population had dwindled to 20-30. Its
increase to a current estimate of 100 is a success story, but one
tempered with the knowledge that an increasing population means
more opportunity for vehicle collisions.
"Losing three panthers in three days saddens all
who care for these endangered animals. However, we're heartened
when we have a good capture season like this past one, when we
captured 11 new panthers," said Darrell Land, the FWC's panther
team leader. "Panthers breed throughout the year, and our
radio-collared females have already produced 12 kittens. The
increase in panther numbers also means that more panthers are
roaming the roadways in the Big Cypress area, and drivers should
always obey the panther speed zones and slow down from dusk to dawn
no matter where they might be driving."
Land noted that two litters of kittens have been
lost because of the death of their mothers in the past two months.
Kittens are not able to survive on their own until they are big
enough to capture prey at approximately 8 months old.
The natural expansion of the panther population
means that panther sightings may start to increase throughout
Florida; however, the majority of the population still resides
south of Lake Okeechobee.
To help protect the large cats from increasing
traffic threats, the FWC, Collier County and Lee County sheriff's
deputies and the Florida Highway Patrol regularly enforce panther
speed zones. Panther speed zones are well-marked, with speed limits
reduced at night to 45 mph.
So far this year, 66 citations and nine warnings
have been issued to motorists violating panther speed zones.
Motorists should be aware that violators often receive fines
exceeding $200 for their first offense, and any violation of more
than 29 mph over the posted limit will result in a mandatory court
"The increasing number of panther road kills
mirrors the increase in panther numbers," Land said. "However, this
does not indicate that the increase of collisions is causing the
population to decrease. The FWC continues to work closely with the
Florida Department of Transportation to develop measures that will
increase motorist and panther safety along Florida's roads."
FDOT has constructed wildlife crossings, erected
fencing and established special panther speed zones, which help
lessen the danger to panthers on the roadways.
Panther research and management funding comes
directly from the additional fees collected when individuals
purchase the "Protect the Florida panther" specialty license plate.
Money also goes to law enforcement to increase patrols in the areas
where panthers reside in South Florida.
"We can all assist with helping the panther
survive," Land said. "Buy a specialty plate to help fund research,
management and enforcement. Lots of people will be on the road this
Memorial Day weekend, so please slow down in panther speed zones,
particularly from dusk to dawn, when panthers are most active."
To purchase a specialty license plate, visit www.buyaplate.com, and to find out more about
the Florida panther, visit www.floridapanthernet.org.