FWC

Published: Nov 04, 2013 1:07 PM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - Florida appears on pace to match or break its record for panther road kills.
    
A record-tying 17 panthers died from vehicle collisions last year. Thirteen of the 16 confirmed panther deaths so far this year have been blamed on vehicle strikes.
    
The rising number of panther road kills may indicate that the endangered cats' population is growing, says Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther biologist Darrell Land. Only a few died each year because of cars a decade ago.
    
"We know that the number of road kills per year tracks pretty well with our (educated guess) of the panther population over the years," Land tells the News-Press (http://newspr.es/1aY7CJ0). "It's not the preferred method, but it's accurate."
    
Roughly 160 panthers are believed to roam southern Florida now.
    
Male panthers have been found as far north as southern Georgia in the past decade, but females tend to stick close to the Fort Myers area.
    
The population has grown from just a couple dozen cats since the mid-1990s.
    
The first documented Florida panther road kill occurred in February 1972 near Moore Haven, according to wildlife commission records.

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