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article imageFlorida drivers are killing the State symbol: the Florida panther

By Igor I. Solar     May 31, 2010 in Environment
Miami - Seventeen panthers were killed by vehicles on Florida roads in 2009. Eight more have died so far in 2010. The last three were run over by cars on US 41, Collier County, South Florida, during the weekend of May 21-23.
The most recent dead panthers, a 4-year-old male, a 5-year-old female and an 8-month-old juvenile were run over on a section of U.S. 41 that crosses a sector of Big Cypress National Preserve, about 72 km west of Miami. The female killed had a litter of two 8-week-old kittens. The fate of the two is uncertain and wildlife biologists believe that they cannot survive without their mother. Kittens stay with their mother for up to two years.
Dave Onorato, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stated:
"For two days, we searched for them, two days straight," he said. But finding the kittens was like finding a needle in a moving haystack," “What's their chance of survival without their mother? "Zero," he said. "That litter is failed."
The Florida panther is a sub-species of the Cougar. Its scientific name is Puma concolor coryi and is one of the most endangered among the large felines in the world. The adult males weigh about 75 kg and the females are a bit smaller. They used to range across the south-eastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. In 1982, the panther was named Florida’s State animal.
Florida panther in the Everglades National Park  Florida.
Florida panther in the Everglades National Park, Florida.
Rodney Cammauf - U.S. National Park Service
Currently, the only breeding population of these magnificent animals is found in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. They have found refuge at three Florida locations: the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. A current estimate of the total population of these panthers is between 80 and 100 individuals.
Why so many of these animals are being run over by cars in state highways? The reason is simple. Several major highways run through the parks were the animals live. In some sections there are road underpasses that allow the animals to move to various areas of their restricted habitat in search of food and shelter. However, many more underpasses are needed.
The cost of building each underpass is high: about US$ 8 million. The main reason is that to make the underpass effective a 2 mile fence must be built on each side of it to guide the animals towards the underpass and prevent them from crossing the road. Another reason is that in many cases the construction of the underpasses and fences have been opposed by hunters and fishermen who claim those barriers impair their access to the Parks and Wildlife preserves. Thus, in several instances instead of an underpass, road signs have been installed telling drivers about their speed and asking them to reduce it when animals are crossing the road. Additionally, Roadside Animal Detection Systems, or RADS, are also being installed in some locations. These devices warn drivers by detecting the presence of animals near the road. Obviously, not everybody cares enough to slow down.
One of the roads that runs through Everglades National Park  Florida. Deadly place for the Florida p...
One of the roads that runs through Everglades National Park, Florida. Deadly place for the Florida panther.
Fovea Centralis
Deborah Jansen, a wildlife biologist with Wildlife Park Services in Big Cypress National Preserve said,
“The only way we’re going to lessen these mortalities is to have more wildlife underpasses.”
Meanwhile, the population of Florida panthers continues to dwindle. There are so few of them left that their reproduction and fitness to survive in the wild is becoming increasingly difficult because of reduced genetic variation and severe inbreeding depression. To assist in reducing this problem some cougars from a genetically close population in Texas were transferred to Florida in 1995. Some evaluation of the genetic restoration program was done in 2003. By then, the population of panthers in Florida was still estimated at around 80 animals.
Highway users in Florida are not contributing to the recovery of the Florida panther population and the possibility of their complete extinction looms ever closer.
Florida panther in its natural habitat
Florida panther in its natural habitat
More about Florida panther, Puma concolor, Cougar
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