Habitat Protection For The Florida Panther
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast
Did You Know?
- Unlike lions and tigers, Florida panthers can't roar.
- Panthers mostly eat white-tailed deer, but they also will eat feral pigs, armadillos and alligators.
- Panthers live 10 years, on average, but have been known to live up to 20.
- There has never been a report of a Florida panther attacking a human in the wild.
- Florida schoolchildren voted for the panther as state animal over other popular species, such as the manatee and the alligator.
- The Seminole tribe in Florida is divided into clans named after animals. Seminole medicine people traditionally come from the Panther Clan.
- At the annual Panther Festival in Naples, Florida, naturalists teach the community how to live safely with panthers nearby.
A Panther By Any Other Name
Other names for the Florida panther include: mountain lion, painter, catamount, Klandagi, fire cat, Coowahchobee, Katalgar, Koicto, cougar, Pumato
The Florida panther is the only cougar species found east of the Mississippi River. Although you’ll see the Florida panther on everything from license plates to the state hockey team’s jersey, this elusive cat was one of the first animals added to the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1967 and is one of the most endangered mammals in the world, with current population numbers hovering around 100 adult cats.
What Kind Of Cat Is It?
The Seminole tribe of Florida calls it coo-wah-chobee, or “big cat.” A naturalist will say puma concolor coryi. A 16th-century European explorer may have referred to it as a devil cat.
Since the Pleistocene era, North America has been home to big cats, a genus now classified under the name puma. The Florida panther is a distinct subspecies discovered in 1896 by naturalist Charles Barney Cory and is genetically habituated to the forests and swamps of southern Florida.
A Panther Needs Territory
The biggest challenge for the Florida panther? Habitat loss. Between 1935 and 1990, the human population of Florida grew by an estimated 4.7 million. That’s an average of 1700 people a week.
A male panther has a territory of about 200 square miles—the equivalent of roughly 100,000 football fields—and, like most felines, won’t share his territory with other males. The average female panther requires about 80 square miles of territory but will share territory with other females, as well as males.
With numbers like these, it’s easy to understand why so few panthers remain and why so many—around 15 to 18 a year—are struck by motorists as they search for new territory.
For the Florida panther to breed and hunt successfully in an increasingly developed landscape, corporations, private citizens and public agencies must work together to save Florida’s natural areas. That’s just what happened when, in 2011, we completed a multi-year effort to save nearly 650 acres of prime panther habitat. Located outside Naples near the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, this land is a top conservation priority of the Florida Panther Interagency Committee (made up by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). The project was also made possible because of the support of a local landowner. Together, we’ve given this big cat a little more room to roam at home.