Officials reported that a total of 27 panthers were killed in Florida during 2022, 22 of them fell on the streets, a species that is in danger of extinction, with an adult population of between 120 and 230 across the state.
“Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for the Florida panther population,” so drivers should be extra vigilant in areas where wildlife may be and have indicators of their presence, the Commission for the Conservation of Panthers warned in a statement. given. Fish and Wildlife Conservancy (FWC).
While most of Florida’s panthers are found south of Lake Okeechobee, “these large native cats have been documented to the south” of the state.
“As our state has developed, so has our human footprint, with many of our highways passing through panther habitat in South and Central Florida,” the FWC said.
The FWC noted that 16 of the panthers killed in 2022 were female, stating that hundreds of years of “unregulated hunting and habitat loss” had driven the Florida panther population to the brink of extinction.
In fact, in the early 1980s, Florida had a wild panther population of just 20 to 30 roaming the desert south and southwest of the peninsula.
“As population size decreased, so did genetic diversity, leading to genetic bottlenecks as a result of inbreeding,” the agency said.
Genetic diversity is critical to a species’ ability to successfully reproduce and maintain population size.
Collier County recorded the most panther deaths in 2022—with 14—of which eleven were hit by vehicles.
As per the verified data of FWC, 27 leopards also died in 2021, while 22 died in 2020. It is the last subspecies that still survives in the eastern United States.
The major decline in panther numbers occurred before the 1950s, when panther hunting was legal. The species was classified as endangered in 1967 and is protected by federal and state laws.