Defenders in Action: Reducing Panther Deaths on Roads
Defenders of Wildlife is working to reduce the number of panthers killed on roads. From wildlife crossings to slow zones, there are many ways we can make roads safer for panthers and people alike.
Collision with vehicles is one of the leading causes of death for Florida panthers. In 2012, a record high of 19 panthers were killed while crossing the road. For a species whose population is believed to be just 100-160 animals, even the loss of a single cat is serious.
How We’re Helping
In the 1980s, the state of Florida converted Alligator Alley, a major road through Big Cypress and the Everglades, to an interstate highway (I-75). Defenders helped ensure wildlife underpasses and other safety measures were included in the plans. We also pushed for the construction of six wildlife crossings on SR-29 when the road was included as an interchange to I-75.
In December 2010, stakeholders broke ground on a $1.3 million wildlife crossing on a stretch of road in the heart of panther country. Completed in May 2011, Florida’s first-ever privately funded wildlife crossing uses fencing and a large culvert to funnel wildlife safely under the road. This stretch of CR 846 has proven particularly deadly for panthers—10 have been killed while crossing it in the past 12 years.
In 2011, Defenders led a group to improve safe passage at CR 832/Keri Road, where nine panthers have been killed since 1996. These efforts resulted in the county designating 5.25 miles of the road as a slow speed nighttime panther zone, improving state enforcement of the speed limit and helping increase public awareness about fostering safe passage for panthers and other wildlife.
Collaboration on Transportation Work
Defenders is partnering with other organizations on a work group to engage Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) about their Future Highway Corridors Initiative. Conservation and land use planning organizations requested briefings from FDOT about this initiative and specific projects so that we can have early input on specific highway alignments, and urge them to avoid breaking up conservation lands and sensitive ecological systems with new roads.
Where We Are Today
Thanks to Defenders’ efforts, a Roadside Animal Detection System (RADS) was installed in January 2012 along a deadly stretch of US-41 in the state’s Big Cypress National Preserve and is currently being monitored to determine whether it is effective in detecting big cats. If effective, the technology may be used to protect panthers and other wildlife in additional parts of the state.