Bad year for Florida Panther deaths

2012 was a record year for Florida panther deaths-

Twenty-six of the rare Florida panther were killed this year, a record, though one that should be set in perspective — the state’s population is 100-160 today compared to only 20-25 back in 1995 when eight female Texas pumas were imported to bolster the population of  native Florida panthers.  Models of the population at that time showed the population winking out shortly after 2010 without artificial recruitment.

Throughout the period, motor vehicles have been the major cause of Florida panther death. This year 17 of the 26 dead were hit by vehicles.

Technically speaking today’s Florida panthers are no longer really Florida panthers in one sense of the word.  The Florida panthers were a unique sub-species, but one that had become so rare that in addition to being hit by vehicles, fertility and vitality were weakened by inbreeding.  The unrelated Texas pumas added vital fresh genetic diversity and bolstered the big cats in Florida in ways more than merely eight additional females.  Forty Florida panther kittens were born this year!  Nevertheless, the high mortality means the population is static at best, and the Florida panthers still show some signs of inbreeding such as deformed tails.

From an ecological perspective what counts is not so much the sub-species as the role the big cats play in the behavior of their prey.  Cougars in general are now clearly moving eastward across the Mississippi River, with one cougar migrating all the way from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Connecticut where it was hit and killed in 2011.

The Florida panther story is in a number of media this week, including the following in Scientific American on-line, which has photos. Amazing Photos of Florida Panther and Cubs Bring a Bright Spot to a Deadly Year By John R. Platt.

Much has been done to make Florida highways and roads safer for the Florida panther, but development continues to close in, in this crowded state.






  1. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Some progress, so I won’t complain (too much).

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Spoke too soon. Rather grim, actually:

    Unfortunately, development proposals in the remaining panther range are accelerating. A major push to develop the Rural Land Stewardship Area (RLSA) of eastern Collier County — ironically named the “Florida Panther Protection Program” — promotes more destruction of panther lands and will result in 45,000 acres of residential and commercial development.

    It would increase the maximum allowed density from 40,000 rooftops to over 175,000. Additionally, the plan will result in over 100 miles of new or expanded roadways which in some cases will increase traffic on rural roads by a factor of twenty.

    Meanwhile, proposed new sand and rock mines threaten over 15,000 more acres of panther habitat. Developers and their allies have also asked the federal government for a comprehensive “take” permit —sometimes ironically called a “Habitat Conservation Plan.” That permit would allow the 45,000 acres of development to proceed without the need for further federal wildlife agency oversight.

  3. Alan Gregory Avatar

    AS awful as it is from the big conservation viewpoint, the roads vs. wildlife slaughter in Florida is – like automobiles vs. white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania – the classic case study to take action on. Coincidentally, in my year-and-a-half of residency in Vermont, I have seen only one roadkill deer.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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