15th Panther Killed on Florida Road, Experts Alarmed
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Yesterday, wildlife officials confirmed that the 15th Florida panther this year was killed on a Florida roadway, eclipsing last year's record of 11 panthers killed by vehicles. The panther was a two-year-old male discovered on I-75 just west of SR-29. I-75 runs through Big Cypress National Preserve and along the Florida National Panther Refuge, and SR-29 runs along the refuge, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and Big Cypress.
"Roads and development have destroyed a great deal of panther habitat and could spell the end for the Florida panther. The toll that vehicle collisions are taking on the panther's population is a serious obstacle to their recovery, and the roads and vehicles themselves are inhibiting the panther's efforts to expand its range," said Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
There are fewer than 100 panthers in Florida today, up from a low of 20 to 30 individuals 20 years ago. This number is still dangerously low and vehicle strikes are a major cause of death for the panther. Since 1972, 110 panthers have been killed on Florida roads, with 70 of those deaths occurring in the last seven years.
Fleming believes that this dramatic upswing is a result of an increasing panther population experiencing loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat, combined with an increasing human population, more roads and more cars traveling in panther habitat. "We've confined panthers to just five percent of where they once roamed in the southeastern U.S. and now they are dying on our roads as they try to reclaim parts of their original range," she said.
The installation of wildlife crossings, which consist of special passageways and directional fencing, have proven very successful in reducing the panther's highway mortality. During the upgrade work on Alligator Alley, along I-75 between Naples and Miami, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) installed 24 underpasses and 13 bridge extensions to allow safe passage of panthers and other wildlife. These installations and 40 miles of associated fencing have nearly eliminated panther strikes along this corridor.
"Crossings and fencing have greatly reduced panther deaths in the areas where they've been installed in Florida," said Trish White, director of the Habitat and Highways campaign for Defenders of Wildlife. "Governor Crist has acknowledged that Floridians have a responsibility to rescue their state animal from extinction and we encourage him to build up regional support for future FDOT projects that include wildlife crossings."
Defenders is an active member of the federal Florida Panther Recovery Team and the state Florida Panther Technical Advisory Council. The organization is preparing to work with FDOT on the initial phase of a project to construct a wildlife crossing on U.S. 41 at Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve, a particularly deadly site for panthers and other wildlife.
Additional efforts by Florida state agencies, developers and local elected officials could further the conservation of the Florida panther. These include:
-- The creation of a regional transportation plan that protects panthers,
other wildlife and motorists in southwest Florida counties;
-- The protection of panthers along more highway segments by
incorporating wildlife crossings, fencing and additional speed zones
in appropriate locations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, southwest Florida
transportation departments and area developers;
-- Accelerating the building of wildlife crossings by FDOT and county
road commissions in identified areas of critical need;
-- Consultations between FDOT and panther biologists to determine
shortcomings at particular crossings and fix any problems;
-- Having Governor Crist and the Florida legislature reauthorize and
increase funding to the Florida Forever land acquisition program,
which will help secure the necessary habitat for panthers and other
wildlife and allow them to roam freely and safely.
"Wildlife crossings, like the ones being built on the U.S. 41 project, will reconnect panther habitat and dramatically reduce the number of panthers hit by vehicles as they move around in search of food, mates and territory," said Fleming. "The panther killed yesterday should serve as a sobering reminder that we all have to do our part to protect the Florida panther and watch out for wildlife while we drive through their habitat."
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 900,000 members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit http://www.defenders.org/.
Source: Defenders of Wildlife