Florida panthers are making a remarkable comeback. Where once as few as 12-20 of the big cats remained in the wild, there is now an estimated population of 100-160 individuals living in south Florida. But the progress made in conserving Florida’s official state animal appears to be having an unintended consequence: livestock losses to cattle ranchers. While panthers normally prey on white-tailed deer, feral hogs and other game, in 2010 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began receiving reports of panthers preying on calves as well.
Southwest Florida cattle ranches are typically spread over thousands of acres, with cows and calves dispersed on a range that includes excellent and essential panther habitat. For panther recovery to continue, it’s critical they remain welcome on these lands.
How We’re Helping
Applying what we’ve learned from our extensive experience with wolves and ranchers in the western states, Defenders of Wildlife provides landowners with information on how to safely coexist with panthers. In rural areas, our trained recruits with the Panther Citizens Assistance Taskforce help residents fund and build predator-resistant enclosures to protect small livestock and pets at night when panthers are prone to roam.
We are also supporting a University of Florida study on southwest Florida calf depredation, the goal of which is to determine the extent to which predators, in particular the Florida panther, are responsible for calf mortality on two ranches in panther territory. We purchased 15 motion-sensitive cameras for the project, which will enable the researchers to document the existence of Florida panthers, Florida black bears, and coyotes on the ranch while calves are present, and to deploy cameras when depredation is documented.
Where We Are Today
As part of a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission task force, Defenders is working with agencies, ranchers and elected officials to explore compensation and incentive programs that work for both panthers and property owners, a possible first step towards more comprehensive and effective long-term solutions.