Fact Sheet
Florida Panther
Florida Panther,  © SuperStock

Threats to Florida Panthers

By the time panthers were named a federally endangered species in 1967, a mere 12 to 20 individuals remained in a single, isolated breeding population at the tip of Florida.

Today there are an estimated 100-160 adult and subadult panthers in southern Florida, occupying only five percent of their historical range. To improve their odds for survival, the subspecies will need at least two additional self-sustaining populations, with each of the three populations numbering at least 240 animals. But availability of habitat or prey, as well as lack of human tolerance for these predators, can limit their ability to expand.

Habitat Loss

Destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitat are the greatest threats to panther survival. In booming south Florida, housing and highway projects continue to slash and shrink precious habitat. Occupied and potential panther habitat throughout the Southeast continues to be affected by urbanization, residential development, road construction, conversion to agriculture, mining and mineral exploration and extraction, and lack of land use planning that recognizes panther needs.

Roadkill

Collisions with motor vehicles are the leading human cause of panther deaths. Biologists believe that mortality from vehicles is preventing the cats from expanding their range across the Caloosahatchee River. A record 19 panthers were killed by vehicles in 2012, and another 15 in 2013.

Intolerance

Another impediment to panther recovery is the lack of human tolerance for living with a large predator. Peoples’ fear that panthers are dangerous to people and livestock complicates efforts to restore panther populations. Public support is critical to helping Florida panthers recover and expand back into their historic range. Political and social issues will be the most difficult aspects of continued panther recovery, and must be addressed before restoration efforts are initiated.

Genetic Diversity

Despite protections for panther habitat, inbreeding remains a serious concern. In 1995, to save the Florida panther from certain extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a genetic health improvement project: the temporary release of eight female panthers from Texas into South Florida to breed with their Florida relatives. The project succeeded, infusing the small, isolated Florida panther population with healthy new genes, and led to the growth of the population.

 

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