Checking the pulse on the Florida panther population as roads pose deadly threat

Published: January 20, 2022 5:37 PM EST
Updated: January 20, 2022 6:25 PM EST

Three Florida Panthers have died in Southwest Florida this year so far, but there are ways to prevent losing even more.

The Florida panther is iconic in the Sunshine State and is considered endangered. It’s also one of two native cat species in Florida. The other is the bobcat.

Adults are brown, about 5 to 7 feet long, weighing between 60 and 160 pounds.

One of the top causes of death to these cats happens to be on roadways, and those from the environmental and transportation worlds have come together to help.

Amber Crooks is an environmental policy manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. She said, every year, there’s a significant number of panthers that are hit and killed on our roadways, “and we think it’s due of course to a squeeze in their habitat.”

In just the first few weeks of 2022, three Florida Panthers have died, including a kitten. All in Southwest Florida and all involving vehicles.

“The state agency, recently for the first time in decades, have noted in their mortality model that the panther population may be in decline,” Crooks explained “This is the first time in decades that they have seen a change in the trend.

Brad Cornell with Audubon Florida added, “Road mortality is a big threat to panthers and lots of other wildlife, Florida black bears and anything that comes across our highways.”

We asked, what is something that can help?

More wildlife crossings, which are meant to help panthers and other wildlife navigate under the road is one option.

Florida Department of Transportation District Drainage Engineer Brent Setchell said, 
”I’ve been heavily involved in making sure that that we put them in the right places. They’re designed well. We monitor the existing ones that we have to see what wildlife was utilizing them; to see how maybe we might be able to retrofit other bridges that weren’t necessarily designed for wildlife crossings.”

Cornell said, “If you think about hitting a 150-pound male Panther or a 300-pound black bear, this is a this is a safety issue for humans as well.”

We have dozens of the crossings already in Southwest Florida, but wildlife experts believe there’s room for more.

The latest federal infrastructure bill also includes funding for a wildlife crossing pilot program. The Florida DOT is waiting on those details to apply for funding.