Florida’s elusive and secretive official state animal is making a comeback according to a report compiled jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

According to the 2017 report, Florida panther population estimates have been raised to between 120 to 230 cats, increasing upon the previous estimate of 100 to 180 panthers.  These estimates are only reflective of adult and subadult panthers and do not include kittens which are still dependent on their mothers, indicating even higher possible concentrations of panthers throughout the sunshine state.

“This latest Florida panther population estimate is good news, an indication that conservation efforts are on track in helping recover this endangered animal,” said Kipp Frohlich, FWC’s Deputy Director for the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “In the 1970s and 1980s, it was estimated only 20 to 30 panthers remained in Florida.”

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FWC Verified Panther Sightings through 1-10-2017

The data compiled for the report is naturally difficult to attain.  As solitary and elusive creatures, biologists have long felt the challenges of obtaining accurate population estimates for panthers in Florida.  Given that much of the annual counts are performed on public lands, scientists are utilizing a number of different methods to aid them in estimating the population as precisely as possible.

Agency researchers extrapolated data from road kills, panther sign such as droppings and tracks, and radio collar pings.  Additionally, trail camera imagery is also utilized, but researchers note that due to the lack of distinct markings such as stripes or spots, it can be extremely difficult to reliably recognize individual panthers.

Wildlife biologists originally drafted a conservation plan in 2008 that dictated the necessity of three distinct panther populations on either side of the Caloosahatchee River.  That plan, however, came under attack in 2015 as both ranchers and hunters voiced their concern over predation by the state’s cats on livestock and deer populations.

That plan has since been scrapped.

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A motion-activated camera captured an adult male Florida panther on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Florida/FWC

Denoting promising results, the joint partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Florida is a strong one, according to Larry Williams, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Florida State Supervisor of Ecological Services.

“Continued recovery will require a long-term concerted effort by many partners committed to finding common-sense solutions that balance many different and competing interests, yet are grounded in a shared purpose of conserving the lands that support Florida’s native wildlife and its ranching heritage,” Williams said.

Biologists are urging the public to continue to report sightings of panthers and their tracks, preferably with photographic evidence to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings to continue panther research and management.

 

Feature Image: Tim Donovan/FWC