In the 1980s there were only about 30 of them, and now the number is estimated to be around 100 — but even with the increase in numbers, every Florida panther death cripples the species' chances of survival.
This is why the year 2009 was especially tragic; 23 wild panthers
were killed. What's even more upsetting is that 16-17 of those deaths were caused by motorists and could have been prevented had the drivers heeded certain warnings and speed limits imposed in Florida panther territory.
Florida panthers tend to be especially territorial and, as will all other large predatory animals, require large amounts of land for hunting and mating. Urban sprawl, fragmentation of habitat and increased automobile traffic have made panthers' territory claim harder. Though there are special designated "panther speed zones" scattered throughout Florida, the majority of panther deaths have occurred when drivers do not obey these speed zones. The government is serious about preserving this precious species, though, as can be seen with the fines for speeding. Some exceed $200, even for the first offense. Even so, some environmental and wildlife groups do not believe enough is being done.
Five groups signed two letters to the "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Interior Department giving them 60 days to respond by designating 3 million acres in South Florida as critical panther habitat, or face a lawsuit." Other suggestions
were made to make Florida a safer place for the panthers. Make no mistake about it, Floridians love their panthers
. Possibly because, unlike other predatory cats in the U.S., there are no known cases of a Florida panther attacking a human.
In fact, spotting a panther in the wild is rare, for the cats are "reclusive, solitary and built to blend in." Those who have seen one marvel at its muscular beauty. The cats actually do not possess the vocal cords to roar, but can purr and hunt invasive species of hogs that are considered a nuisance. The slow increase of numbers has everyone on pins and needles. Panther biologists frequently check dead panthers for kinked tails and cowlicks — both signs of inbreeding, and a major concern with such a small population.
For more information about how you can help the Florida panther, please visit the Defenders of Wildlife website for specific resources