New Nighttime Speed Zone Will Save Panthers
Slow zone will raise driver awareness in Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest
In April 2012, Florida’s Hendry County put into effect a new slow speed nighttime panther zone on a 5.25 mile stretch of CR 832/Keri Road (pronounced kee-rye), a rural road that bisects the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest.
The road’s posted speed limit will now drop from 55 to 45 mph at night, when panthers are most active and visibility for motorists is low.
“For years, Keri Road has been a very dangerous roadway for panthers as well as for people,” said Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Now, thanks to the support of landowners, natural resource agencies and conservationists, Hendry County has taken an important first step toward improving passage for panthers and other wildlife across this stretch of highway. We are very hopeful that the reduced speed limit will raise awareness about the need to drive carefully and watch out for wildlife.”
Keri Road a Danger Zone for Panthers
Keri Road is a documented danger zone for panthers and other wildlife. Nine panthers are known to have been killed by vehicles on CR 832, six of which were within the state forest. While the road has a posted speed limit of 55 mph, many drivers exceed that speed. When the Hendry County Engineering Department recorded vehicle speeds on the road in August 2011, they found that 85 percent of motorists drove 65-70 mph, despite the legal speed limit of 55 mph.
What It Means for Wildlife
Collision with vehicles is one of the leading causes of death for Florida panthers, and with only 100-160 animals in the state, even the loss of a single cat is serious. The new slow zone designation will not only allow the state to enforce the speed limit in Okaloacoochee Slough on Keri Road, but it will help to increase awareness about fostering safe passage for big cats and other wildlife.
Defenders’ Elizabeth Fleming caught sight of her first wild panther the same night the Keri Road slow zone was approved. Read about her firsthand encounter with one of the state’s iconic cats.