The Florida Panther - Nearing Extinction
One of nearly 20 species of cougar, the Florida panther is native to the Southeastern United States. These beautiful animals once roamed freely across Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, and all of Florida, but are now confined to a small area in the southern tip of Florida. Biologists now believe that fewer than 100 remain.
Because of their perceived threat to livestock and humans, the Florida panther was hunted to the extent that by the 1950’s they were almost extinct. Some actually hunted them because they wanted to protect their annual game hunting, as the panther preyed on the deer population. As a result, the natural balance was disturbed to the point that in some areas deer have now become a problem to farmers. The number of road accidents from deer strikes has also increased dramatically in the last several decades.
As urban areas have grown, the natural habitat of the panthers has gradually disappeared. What was once farmland and diversified agricultural land has now become commercial or residential property. In many cases, the panther population has also succumbed to such diseases as feline leukemia, transmitted thru domesticated animals that the panthers have added to their food sources. Pesticides and other chemicals, used where intensified farming has been implemented, have hastened the decline in the panther population as well.
A normal population of panthers in a healthy environment, free of the problems already mentioned, would consist of one male and as many as five females ranging over an area of about 200 miles. To maintain genetic diversity requirements and avoid inbreeding, biologists suggest that a panther population of 200 or more with 8,000 acres of habitat would be necessary. With 100 or fewer now surviving in the wild, we may have already passed the point of no return for this animal.
Since 2004, reports of human encounters with the elusive cat have increased, further proof that they are running out of habitat. Their natural inclination is to avoid human contact. Unfortunately, with little choice as to available prey, the panther has become more aggressive in feeding on livestock and family pets, and farmers have become more vocal with their concerns for protection of their herds and human safety.
Environmentalists and conservationists are fighting a losing battle as they try to stabilize the Florida panther population. Even importing females from Texas did not accomplish much, since that sort of effort alone will not increase the available habitat. Educating the public and motivating government officials is the real challenge. Until and unless the majority of the human population recognizes the importance of preserving this and other endangered species, our burgeoning population will continue to claim what once was the home of a diverse collection of flora and fauna. Since first being placed on the Endangered Species List in 1967, the panther population has plummeted while the human population in its natural habitat has tripled. Since we are powerless to create or bring back a species, we must ask ourselves this question: will we choose to promote this animal's life through conservation?