SAVING THE FLORIDA PANTHER
A reserved, stealthy predator of enormous physical grace and power, the Florida panther is one of the most majestic large felines in the wild. While jaguars were also native to the southeastern United States, and pumas were widespread from the East to the West coasts, today the Florida panther is the only large feline remaining in the Southeast, and it's separated from western puma populations by more than 1,000 miles. Once found throughout the southeast United States, the Florida panther now occupies only a small area of South Florida, about 5 percent of its former range, and it numbers just 100 to 120 individual cats.
By far the greatest threats to Florida panthers are habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation — all driven by Florida’s burgeoning human population and the developments and highways that accommodate it. Without room to roam, male Florida panthers clash, often with fatal consequences; with its restricted size and absolute isolation, the panther population remains particularly vulnerable to fatal diseases and parasites. Roads, besides slashing through precious panther habitat, also directly kill the great cats through vehicle collisions. But Florida development and road-building can only increase as humans expand; already, numerous new towns are planned to be built inland from the state’s southwest coast.
For the Florida panther to survive — much less recover — it needs federally protected critical habitat, as well as reintroductions to additional habitats in Florida and the Southeast. The Center petitioned for the protection of roughly 3 million acres of critical habitat in September 2009, but early the next year, the Obama administration denied our petition — so we and four allies sued, and when our lawsuit was struck down, we appealed. In 2011, we also petitioned to reintroduce the panther in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia and northern Florida. That petition was denied, but we won’t give up on earning this species the room it needs to roam and recover.