The Florida Panther is not your Regular Kind of Cat
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Any cat people out there? You might not want one of these guys as a house cat. This week we are going to have a look at an endangered species who call southwest Florida their home. The Florida panther is listed on the Endangered Species List as “critical.” There are only roughly 100-160 of these beautiful predators left in existence, and they are crammed into areas much smaller than can be considered an acceptable size. As they are growing and maturing, these cats need around 200 square miles to hunt and roam in order to develop properly. That’s roughly the size of Chicago. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge along with a couple others provide some level of protection from extinction for the remaining animals. As if being endangered isn’t enough to worry about, if the sea water levels continue to rise, the salt water is going to destroy the parts of their habitat that have miraculously weathered the years. The safety of the white tail deer – one of the main food sources for the cat – would be put in jeopardy
It is less common knowledge that there are 32 subspecies of the Puma. Mountain Lions and Cougars to give a couple examples. Florida panthers is a puma subspecies. This particular subspecies used to be roaming all throughout the southeastern U.S.A. Now, there only exists a small population of roughly 110 cats. In a time when their habitat was untouched by man, they thrived. Much to their disliking, European settlers started what would become the panthers’ near demise. Fortunately, educated and determined individuals involved with wildlife services are staying on top of the conditions and obstacles these endangered felines must face for a chance to survive. Luckily, their diet is a fairly flexible one, in relationship to their habitat. They can move down mountainsides, climb trees, and move silently throughout the forest. These very large and extremely agile cats are amongst the most excellent of hunters in the wild. The primary source of food for a panther is white-tailed deer. I’m on board with these guy’s meal plan! If deer is in shortage or just out of range, they have no problem going after feral hogs, raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, birds and other animals. Their skill in hunting can be attributed to their strength as well as their anatomical traits. The panther’s hind limbs are longer than their forelimbs. This adaptation makes jumping much easier and allows the cats to have more power when pouncing prey. They can take down prey up to 2.5 times their own body weight. Suffice it to say, these guys are not shy on the battlefield.
The biggest threat to these creatures is conflict with humans, particularly being hit by cars. Thankfully, there are organizations like White Oak Plantation to help them. Nearly a decade ago, the plantation started a program to rehabilitate injured or orphaned panthers. They are kept in isolation on the property before being released back into their natural habitat in southern Florida, once they have recovered or matured. With the use of camera traps and radio telemetry collars, keepers and veterinarians are able to see where the animals are and help ensure they avoid contact with humans. Since the turn of the millennium and with the population in South Florida growing, there has been a significant increase in the number of human-panther interactions. In many instances, depredation – the killing of livestock and pets. With these interactions becoming more frequent, the wildlife agencies that oversee these animals had to put a certain ready awareness initiative. The three main agencies are Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in dealing with several types of interactions including; sightings, encounters, incidents, threats, attacks, and depredations.
We may not see any Florida Panthers roaming around from one of our cruises but how about joining us on the Beach Creek Tour for some dolphin sightings? (continue…)