Record number of endangered Florida panthers killed by vehicles in 2009

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More must be done to protect Florida’s native big cats

(12/30/2009) -

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Yesterday, wildlife officials confirmed the death of the 16th Florida panther killed this year on a Florida roadway, eclipsing last year’s number of 10 panthers killed by vehicles and representing a new record high for the imperiled native cat.

The latest panther to be killed was a four-year-old female discovered on State Road 29 in Collier County – on a stretch of the road without protective fencing in known panther habitat. The 2009 tally of panthers killed by vehicle strikes surpasses the record set in 2007 of 15 dead panthers. This year’s death-rate may be even higher, as a 17th panther found dead in October is also suspected of being killed by a “vehicular collision,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“Unless we take actions to avoid such tragic losses to Florida’s native wildlife, records such as these will continue to be reached each year as more and more roads and developments are built,” said Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The toll that vehicle collisions are taking on the panther’s population is a serious obstacle to their recovery, and the roads and vehicles themselves are inhibiting the panther’s efforts to expand its range.”

There are approximately 100 panthers in Florida today, up from a low of 20 to 30 individuals 22 years ago. This number is still dangerously low and vehicle strikes are a major cause of death for the panther.

Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken in order to significantly reduce the threats to Florida’s at risk panther population. The installation of wildlife crossings, which consist of special passageways and directional fencing, have proven very successful in reducing the panther’s highway mortality.

Additional efforts by federal and Florida transportation authorities and other agencies,  local elected officials and land developers could further the conservation of the Florida panther. These include:

  • The creation of a regional transportation plan that protects panthers, other wildlife and motorists in southwest Florida counties;
  • The protection of habitat and corridors on public and private lands that provide a network of panther range
  • The protection of panthers along more highway segments by incorporating wildlife crossings, fencing and additional speed zones in appropriate locations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, southwest Florida transportation departments and area developers;
  • Using both conventional and innovative technologies that result in safe driving practices and safe passage for people, panthers and other wildlife.
  • Accelerating the building of wildlife crossings by FDOT and county road commissions in identified areas of critical need;
  • Consultations between FDOT and panther biologists to determine shortcomings at particular crossings and appropriate fixes tailored to the problem areas;
  • Avoiding building new roads that harm the state’s natural resource areas and wildlife habitat.
  • Having Governor Crist and the Florida legislature provide funding to the Florida Forever land acquisition program, which will help secure the necessary habitat for panthers and other wildlife and allow them to roam freely and safely.

“If we don’t do something quickly to reduce the risks to Florida’s panthers as they move around in search of food, mates and territory, then we are facing loss of this iconic species,” said Fleming. “The panther found dead yesterday should serve as a sobering reminder that we all have to do our part to protect the Florida panther and watch out for wildlife while we drive through their habitat.”

Learn more about Defenders' work to save Florida panthers

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than one million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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Contact(s):

Erin McCallum, 202-772-3217

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