Join Big Cat Rescue to Support FL Panthers in Ft Lauderdale
Last week (Aug 2015) the FWC posted their revised draft FL panther position statement. As some of you may recall, in June, Big Cat Rescue joined various national conservation groups in speaking out against the original draft position statement. Many of you responded to our action alert, contacting the FWC and asking them to not give up on the FL panther. Carole and I attended the meeting in Sarasota to speak up for the panthers (and the bears). We also participated in a media conference with the Sierra Club, The Conservancy of SW Florida, and the HSUS. You may read our response to the FWC’s original draft position statement at http://bigcatrescue.org/why-is-the-fwc-giving-up-on-the-florida-panther/.
We are currently working on our comments in response to the revised statement and will be sending out another action alert to our Florida supporters.
In the meantime, PLEASE PLAN ON JOINING me, Howard, and Carole at the upcoming FWC meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2nd, 2015 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The FWC will be voting on the revised statement as well as finalizing rules for the impending bear hunt.
More information about the meeting including the address, start time, agenda, and a link to the revised draft FL panther position statement may be found online at http://myfwc.com/about/commission/commission-meetings/2015/september/02/agenda/
Tell the FWC Commissioners to oppose the draft position statement. Attend the upcoming FWC meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2nd, 2015 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The FWC will be voting on the revised statement as well as finalizing rules for the impending bear hunt.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains that for the Florida Panther to go from Endangered to Threatened there would have to be at least 2 populations of Florida Panthers of at least 240 animals each. For the Florida Panther to be healthy enough to sustain populations for the next 100 years there would have to be at least 3 populations of 240 animals each. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) says there are currently 100-180 Florida Panthers.
Back up a minute. 100-180? That is a huge gap and for many years we’ve been told that Florida Panthers number less than 100, so why is it that now, when they are trying to rush through a proposal to give up on the Florida Panther, is the FWC saying there could be 180 of the sleek, elegant cats? No one has guessed such a high estimate before now. But even if they were right, that is a far cry from the 720 Florida Panthers needed to ensure their survival.
If you take a look at the presentation that will be shown to the Commissioners on Tuesday you will see that it concludes that the state of Florida should abandon plans for reintroduction of the Florida Panther outside of its very small area, of mostly flooded Everglades territory, and implies that:
1. There aren’t many deer or other prey animals left there for hunters to shoot anyway.
2. If Florida Panther are allowed to migrate outside of the Everglades they will kill the deer and other prey species that hunters want to shoot.
3. People are afraid to live near Florida Panthers and Florida Bears.
Let’s Take Those Reasons One at a Time
1. There Isn’t Enough Prey in Florida Panther Territory
That may well be true, but it isn’t the Florida Panther’s fault. The Florida Panther has been struggling to survive due to habitat destruction, human hunting of the prey species the big cats need to survive, and the FWC’s refusal to ban the private possession of exotic animals, which has resulted in discarded pythons and other exotic reptiles, sucking the Everglades dry of just about every species living there. If the FWC really cares about providing better Florida Panther habitat in southern Florida, then it needs to ban hunting there and ban the private possession of exotic animals in the state.
The report states that it is based primarily on camera trap studies from April to September 2014, but no study could be complete without covering a full year as patterns change based on weather, tourists, hunting and breeding seasons. The report also stated that it couldn’t tell un collared cats apart, other than sometimes by sex, so the current report is based on many assumptions that haven’t been proven. Unlike tigers who can be identified by their stripe patterns, the camera trap imagery is insufficient to determine if researchers saw 131 un-collared Florida Panthers or if they saw 1 Florida Panther 100 times or so… or anywhere in between.
2. If the Florida Panther Migrates North It Will Kill More Deer
Yes, that’s how nature works. No one needs to kill wild animals to “manage” them, if you get out of the way and let Nature do her thing.
The report cites that from 2004-2015 106 hobby farm animals (like backyard chickens) and domestic pet deaths (mostly free roaming cats) were blamed on Florida Panthers and 34 calf deaths were blamed on the cat. The report doesn’t say how they determined the culprit was the Florida Panther, (rather than free roaming dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc.) but even giving the FWC the benefit of the doubt, compare those 140 losses to the more than 165 Florida Panthers who were killed by car strikes during the same period and tell me who the real menace is here?
The report did state that the hobby animals and domestic pets, that were thought to have been killed by Florida Panthers, was a “very small proportion” of the Panther’s diet, but if you do the math, that statement is so negligible that it seems the only reason to include it would be to justify giving up on the Florida Panther. Consider the lowest number of Florida Panthers in the state being 100 and that they only eat twice a week, which may be just barely surviving, that’s 10,400 animals a year consumed by Florida Panthers. That means the 140 farm and domestic animal meals, over the 11 year period, are 0.001 % of their diet. Defenders of Wildlife and The Conservancy of SW Florida both offer programs to assist people in protecting their livestock and pets should be kept indoors. These organizations also offer $340 per calf killed so that there is no loss to the farmer.
3. People Are Afraid to Live Near Florida Panthers and Bears
Much of the reasoning the FWC offers for wanting to resume bear hunting (after 40 years of protection) and for wanting to give up on the recovery of the Florida Panther, is blamed on people not wanting to live near these wild animals. If that’s true then why hasn’t the FWC responded to the tens of thousands of complaints sent to them by Floridians who do not want to live next door to crazy neighbors who keep tigers in their backyards and garages? There are more than 100 places in Florida that are licensed to possess dangerous big cats, and at last count 314 of the dangerous big cats were tigers.
Only 3 of those places were AZA accredited zoos and one was GFAS accredited Big Cat Rescue. The rest are a hodgepodge of back yard breeders and tourist traps with very little oversight. The FWC and USDA may inspect once a year, but if they don’t catch someone in the act of harming the animals, or doing something reckless, then they are typically given a clean inspection report.
The FWC points to four recent bear / human conflicts and can’t find any such cases of Florida Panthers stalking people, but ignores the fact that from 1990 – 2014 there were 84 killings, maulings or escapes by captive exotic cats in Florida. If you are going to use public safety as a reason to hunt and kill our precious natural predators, then why doesn’t that same logic result in a ban on the private possession of lions and tigers in Florida? When the next big hurricane hits Florida, it will be the thousands of dangerous exotic animals potentially freed from cages who will be endangering the public; not our native bears and cats. All throughout this report the FWC claims to be taking a proactive approach to the situation, but that has not been the case with captive exotic animals at all.
The FWC says that managing the survival of these iconic wild animals in their historic range takes up too much of the FWC’s time and resources. Their tagline is to Protect and Serve. Most people think that means to Protect Wildlife and Serve Floridians, but it’s been my experience that it is more to Protect Hunting and Serve Hunters. That is particularly egregious since less than 2% of Floridians are hunters.
Judge for Yourself
The Florida Legislature’s 2014-2015 Appropriations to the FWC, which is funded by those pretty Save the Florida Panther license plates, was $1,324,534.00 That paid the salaries of 10 people working for the FWC. It provided paychecks to 5 biologists, who you would have to assume came up with these proposals, to give up on the Florida Panther and open hunting on the protected Black Bear. It also provided paychecks to 5 law enforcement officers, but to this day I’ve never heard of one catching the poacher of a Florida Panther or Black Bear in the act; have you? Seems like that would be a pretty good story for boosting their funding, but I can’t recall ever hearing about such a thing.
If you go to the FWC’s website ( http://myfwc.com/ ) the first thing you will notice is that their top two flashing banner ads are about teaching children to kill animals before they are old enough to know better. Next is a pitch to catch more fish. Then a note to check out the bear updates and then a picture of turtle hatchlings going out to sea. Leaves you on a happy note, even if everything up until then makes an animal lover want to fire the whole agency. If you go to any of the FWCC meetings, you will be appalled to hear them go on and on and on about how they have to make killing animals more attractive to children and battered women.
Add to the controversy the fact that among the landowners seeking the permit is Immokalee rancher Liesa Priddy, who in 2012 was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott.
Going back to the bear update, it appears the primary focus is to get people to report more bear problems so they can build up that case for opening up bear hunts. I think that’s the real impetus behind giving up on the Florida Panther too.
If the FWC can push through this proposed policy that states that the FWC is not going to burden itself with assisting the recovery of the Florida Panther outside of its barren range, then I believe they will use that as a stepping stone to allow the killing of Florida Panthers who dare to try and leave the flooded plains of the Everglades. They have already done the same to bears by allowing “nuisance” bears to be killed rather than requiring people to keep their trash in bear safe cans.
Then they can offer more hunting opportunities to those children and battered women.
Read the whole report and you will see some mention that the FWC intends to try to improve the small area where they want to relegate the Florida Panthers, but that seems to be more smoke and mirrors to make it look like they will make some effort to preserve the cat, when those small measures could never really save the Florida Panther long term.
Big Cat Rescue Protects Florida Panthers
What You Can Do
Come to the meeting and speak your mind. They will limit you to 3 minutes, but if you don’t speak up to protect the Florida Panther and the Florida Bear, who will?
June, 2015 Commission Meeting
Time: 1:30 pm the first day, 8:30 am each day thereafter
Dates: June 23 – 25, 2015
Place: Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Boulevard of the Arts
Sarasota, Florida 34236
Puma concolor coryi. The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar that has
adapted to the subtropical environment of Florida.
How Many Panthers Are Left?
Only 80 to 100 panthers still remain in Florida, making this one of the most rare and endangered mammals in the world.
Where is their Habitat?
Florida Panthers are usually found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests. Adult males may range over an area of 200 square miles, while females range over a 70 to 80 square mile area. Florida panthers are very solitary animals. An adult maintains a home range to live, hunt and, if female, raise its young alone. A male panther’s home range is very large and averages 275 square miles and overlaps with the smaller home ranges of females. Panthers maintain boundaries by marking with scents. They rarely fight over territory.
Panthers are most active at dusk and dawn, they can travel 15-20 miles a day, often moving in a zig-zag pattern, though they tend to rest during the daytime, travel & hunt during the cooler hours of the night. Panthers can swim and will cross wide bodies of water. They have a keen sense of smell and a field of vision of 130 degrees, they have excellent depth perception but lack the panoramic view that deer have.
They can run up to 35 mph but only for a few hundred yards, their preferred method of hunting is to creep up as close to their prey as possible and launch a short spring attack. Panthers do become used to man-made noises and frequently cross roads. They are attracted to woodland fires, and may stay near burned sites for days as deer and other prey are drawn to new vegetation. When humans approach an area they will either be still, disappear, or attempt to circle behind. Panthers can live up to between 12-15 years in the wild. A male can measure 7-8 feet from the nose to tail tip and weight 100-160 lbs. Females are about 6 feet in length and weight between 60-100 lbs.
What About Their Breeding Habits?
The Life Cycle
What Kind of Hunter is the Panther?
Efficient is the word. Adult male panthers weigh up to 150 pounds and can measure almost 7 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail. Females are smaller, rarely weighing more than 100 pounds. Panthers are built to hunt live prey. Deer and wild hogs
are their preferred food, but, when these are not available, panthers will eat raccoons, armadillos and even alligators. Interestingly, panthers eating a diet of small animals are not as healthy as those with plenty of deer to hunt. While they are good sprinters, panthers rarely chase prey for long distances. Instead, prey is singled out, stalked and ambushed.
What are the Threats?
We are. This also means that we can directly affect the panther’s future. It’s sad to say that Florida panthers are killed by cars and trucks, particularly on State Road 29 and Alligator Alley (I-75), and – although it is against the law – hunters also still shoot panthers occasionally.
The biggest threats to the remaining panthers, however, are their health and continuing loss of habitat. Florida panthers have an unusually large number of health problems. Most are related to poor habitat conditions and genetic defects.
Around the Everglades, panthers have been contaminated with mercury (at least 1 has died from mercury poisoning) by eating raccoons high in mercury, which passes through the aquatic food chain. The mercury’s origin is being debated and is uncertain.
What is being done?
Plans to save the panthers focus on 3 areas of action. First, additional habitat must be secured and enhanced. Second, programs are under way to breed panthers in captivity for later release back in the wild. Third, scientists are exploring ways to increase the genetic variability of panthers through cross-breeding with closely related subspecies.
The panther needs large wilderness areas for its survival. Federally listed as endangered since 1967, the Florida panther is down to 80 to 100 individuals. These few animals are threatened by further habitat loss, collisions with cars, the ill effects of inbreeding, and high levels of mercury in their prey.
May of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Natural Resources, and other organizations to try to bring about recovery of the Florida panther. Efforts are centered on research, captive breeding, and public education. Radio-collaring of several panthers has shown what areas and habitat types they use. Other studies have identified the principal prey — white-tailed deer. Publicity has made the public more aware of the panther’s plight and alerted people to watch out for them on the highway. But with the numbers so low and suitable habitat in south Florida so restricted, captive breeding and reestablishment in other areas will be crucial for turning the population decline around.
Are There Any Refuges?
The National Wildlife Refuge System Act of 1966 includes measures to preserve ecosystems for endangered species, perpetuate migratory bird species, preserve natural diversity, and create public appreciation for wildlife protection.
The refuge system is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is one of the 58 refuges established under the authority of the Endangered Species Act. The refuge area has long been known as an important Florida Panther habitat. Several female panthers have had litters and raised kittens on the refuge in recent years.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitors panther activity using radio telemetry collars. They fly three times a week to aerially locate each radio-collared panther. These techniques provide vital information to scientists. The swamps and pinelands panthers occupy also provide us with clean air and water, as well as thousands of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants.
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge lies 20 miles east of Naples, Florida. Interstate 75 parallels the south boundary; State Road 29 parallels the east boundary.
Mission of the Panther Refuge
To conserve and manage lands and waters in concert with other agency efforts within the Big Cypress Watershed, primarily for the Florida Panther, other endangered and threatened species, natural diversity,
and cultural resources for the benefit of the American people.
In 1989, data collected from 29 radio-collared panthers indicated that the population was losing genetic diversity at a rate of three to seven percent yearly. Researchers believed that the gene pool would continue to erode even if the population stabilized, leading to extinction within 40 years. Three years later, with the health of the population continuing to decline, biologists made a controversial decision. In an effort to increase genetic diversity, wildlife managers introduced several female Texas cougars — the closest remaining cougar population that had historically shared Florida panther range — into the Florida panther population in 1995. Several hybrid litters have since been produced, and the introduction seems to have corrected some of the problems experts generally attribute to inbreeding. Experts are still debating the role of the Texas cougars in panther recovery.
Despite the success of this effort, panthers are still at great risk of extinction. Conserving the panther will require aggressive protections for remaining wild lands in south Florida as well as conservation efforts on private lands.
Another major conservation challenge for the panther is reestablishing the species in other portions of its historic range. Field studies have indicated an adequate prey base and appropriate habitat in some areas of northern Florida. While there is widespread popular support for panther reintroduction in Florida, some people are still concerned about introducing the cat to new areas, fearing the panther will bring with it restrictions on private property uses, potential damage to livestock and pets, and a possible threat to human safety. Such concerns often surround recovery efforts for large carnivores, but with proper assurances to address depredation claims and any potential “problem” animals, reintroduction projects could prove a positive step towards recovering the Florida panther.
What You Can Do To Save The Panther
Become informed by researching materials from creditable sources which take a scientific approach.
Help others become educated about the nature and habits of the panther and its value as an important part in the balance of nature.
Support wilderness land acquisition, and the public and private land management practices which emphasize biodiversity and balance.
Don’t be silent, join in and support the environmental education process to raise the consciousness of the community. You can do this by individual effort and/or by joining with others in various ways to get the job done.
Do a school project on the Florida Panther
Make wildlife a family affair. Display panther bumper stickers. Visit national and state parks where the panther lives. Watch TV programs about endangered species.
Attend public meetings on panther issues. The decisions that affect endangered species are made in these forums. Make sure your voice is heard.
Speak out every chance you get. Awareness is half the battle. Tell everyone you can about the plight of the panther.
As with most conservation issues, the struggle of the panther goes beyond the question of whether it is worth saving this particular species. If our wilderness can’t support panthers, then many other less visible species also will perish. Let’s all do what we can to ensure that future generations will know this beautiful animal and the wilderness it symbolizes.
Note: Much of the information and research on this site is courtesy of both the Florida Panther Net (http://www.panther.state.fl.us/) and The Panther Society. Our deep felt thanks goes to them for their tireless efforts to ensure the panther’s survival by educating us all.
Florida Panther News
Protecting the Florida Panther is vital to saving Florida's precious eco system. These are the most recent news stories about Florida Panthers and their fight for survival.
• Slow down when you’re driving
Over 10% of the dwindling Florida Panther population was killed in 2009 by vehicle strikes. Watch out for all wildlife. Know what to do if you encounter a panther in the wild; i.e. make yourself appear larger, avoid crouching or bending over, do not run, give the panther an easy way to escape.
Historic News About the Florida Panther
Small Population Only One Danger Facing Panthers
By WILL ROTHSCHILD Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Published: Mar 26, 2006
OCHOPEE – The future of the Florida panther is playing out here on Loop Road, a 26-mile route carved through the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve.
Considered the most endangered mammal on the planet when it numbered perhaps two dozen a decade ago, the panther has rebounded to about 80.
The number of people living in South Florida also has climbed dramatically in the past 10 years. With more people moving into subdivisions chiseled into the scrubby pinelands and hardwood hammocks that once buffered panthers from urban life, a growing chorus of observers say Florida has reached its limit of cats.
Sustaining the recovery, in fact, promises to be much trickier, hinging as much on social and political considerations as scientific ones. How those questions are answered could determine whether panthers hang on or whether South Florida decides it no longer has the room or the will to protect them.
The number of panthers killed on roadways this year has equaled the total from all of 2005.
Perhaps a more telling indicator of the trouble facing the panther is the increasing pressure to remove a particular cat from the wild this year.
Panthers are known for their stealth, but this cat, known as No. 124, has been anything but for more than two years. She has been seen dozens of times prowling along Loop Road homesites in the Big Cypress hamlet of Ochopee.
Leaders of the Miccosukee Indians who live there worry she will attack pets or livestock or, though a panther attack on a person has never been reported, one of the children who play along Loop Road and the fringes of wild Big Cypress.
As the debate continues, about 124 and how to handle panther-human interaction – not to mention whether the Florida panther’s DNA has become so corrupted by a cross-breeding program that it might not even be the Florida panther anymore – some scientists think the risk of extinction is as great today as ever.
Larry Richardson, a federal biologist who has studied the cats for 20 years, is among them.
“It’s always dangerous when you make strides because people can get apathetic and think everything is OK,” Richardson says. “But I’m more concerned today than I was [10 years ago].
“I see a crash coming.”
Shrinking Habitat And Inbreeding
Florida panthers once enjoyed their perch atop the food chain across a vast dominion. They roamed the entire Southeast, from the Carolina mountains to the Louisiana marshes. They were all over the Florida peninsula, from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
Then they were hunted and their habitat was paved over and fractured until the cats were hemmed into the relatively tiny pocket of South Florida, a mere 5 percent of their original range.
The tight quarters meant major problems for the panther. By the mid-1990s, it had become so inbred that its male offspring were being born without testicles.
The panther is a subspecies of the cougars found in abundance across the Western United States. Scientists transplanted eight Texas cougars into the panther population in a last-ditch effort to solve the genetic problems and save the animal. It worked: the panther’s numbers have roughly quadrupled since then.
Also, after more than 20 years of capturing, collaring and tracking panthers, about 70 percent of what has been identified as the cat’s primary habitat zone has been protected.
“We have to tackle the remaining 30 percent to maintain continuity,” said Darrell Land, the panther team leader with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “I’m cautiously optimistic. We certainly see more panthers today, so I’m optimistic that preservation methods have worked.”
The Case Of No. 124
As the fiercely territorial panther’s population grows and young males continue to seek ranges outside protected public lands, the cats increasingly are running headfirst into the region’s ravenous growth and development machine.
The removal of 124 would be the second this year of a cat roaming near people in Big Cypress. In February, panther 79, an 11-year-old male nicknamed Don Juan, because he had fathered about 30 kittens, was removed from Big Cypress and shipped to a nature center outside Jacksonville after repeatedly killing livestock in the Pinecrest area.
Perhaps no case better illustrates the complexity of panther management and the uncertainty of the cat’s future than that of 124.
One of an estimated 14 to 17 reproducing females left, 124 has birthed litters each of the past two years, making her “one of the most significant panthers out there,” according to Laura Hartt, a panther expert with the National Wildlife Federation. It is rare for female panthers to give birth two years in a row.
Some suspect Loop Road residents and people who work at the environmental education center have been feeding deer in the area, which has attracted them and which, in turn, has attracted 124.
At a meeting in Naples this month, a team of scientists reaffirmed its position that 124 has not displayed the type of behavior that mandates removal.
Meanwhile, the Miccosukkee tribe continues to petition federal officials to take her out, warning the panther could be shot if she displays threatening behavior.
Still A Panther?
Then there’s the DNA question.
Biologists say the animals maintain certain characteristics that are purely Florida panther, such as facial structure.
But the DNA question is clearly an issue that makes panther advocates uncomfortable, raising the specter that the Florida panther is gone and the cross-bred cats that remain in South Florida don’t qualify for protection.
Ultimately, the underlying issue is the same: the Florida panther is in trouble. Where people differ is on why and what should happen next.
Meanwhile, back on Loop Road, alligators and wood storks hang out in roadside canals framed by a tangle of bald cypress, orchid-adorned slash pine and palm trees. On a mild mid-March afternoon, it can be hard to imagine there is something wrong if you’re just passing through.
It can be hard for the people who live here, too. Though Stacey Cypress, 18, lives on Loop Road, she had not heard about her tribe’s fight to remove 124 until a visitor told her about it last week.
Despite the rampant fear and anxiety sweeping the area detailed in tribal letters to wildlife officials, no one has told this new mother and caretaker of three younger siblings that a renegade panther was about.
Her 8-week-old daughter on her lap, Cypress sat on her front porch and nodded toward the lush wilderness.
“We’re living in their habitat,” Cypress says. “They’re endangered, right?
“So why move them out of here? What’s the point of that?”
Panthers on the Prowl: Florida’s big cats rebound
Last update: 22 May 2004
But remain at mercy of politics, science and growth
By DINAH VOYLES PULVER Environment Writer
This is the first of a two-part series on the plight of Florida’s efforts to rescue its panthers from the ill effects of encroaching humankind. Part two will appear in Monday’s editions.
They’re elusive and sightings are rare, but nearly three times as many Florida panthers now roam the wilds of South Florida than 20 years ago.
Efforts to bring the panther back from the brink of extinction produced dramatic success. Breeding and genetic restoration projects were accomplished. Vast tracts of habitat were saved. From an estimated 30 panthers, officials say the population now numbers at least 87, not including kittens.
The birth rate has outpaced the number of panthers that die in auto collisions, but biologists say territorial fights are a bigger and just as lethal threat.
Savvy and smart, panthers are efficient at prowling their territories for prey and water. But that prowess can’t always help when they’re attacked by disease, other panthers or even mosquitoes. It leaves them powerless in the face of the sprawling growth that threatens their habitat and competes for vacant land. The Florida panther is still endangered.
And, during the past year, simmering squabbles over panther protection have bubbled into very public debate among scientists, the state and federal agencies they work for, environmental groups and developers.
The crux of the dispute is over panther habitat — chiefly, how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluates panther habitat and recommends what developers should do to make up for damage.
The wildlife service oversees panther protection and recovery in Florida. The service works with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which also oversees panther protection and monitors the panther population. Both agencies work on restoration projects and conduct and support scientific research.
The federal agency’s panther plans put priority on preserving forested land, saying it’s the cat’s favored habitat. Others say different types of habitat, such as grassland and farmland, are just as important and that faulty science has prevented the federal agency from adopting that principle in permitting.
A federal complaint filed May 3 is the latest in a series of disputes and allegations.
Andrew Eller, a biologist with the federal wildlife service for 17 years, alleges in the complaint that his employer knowingly uses flawed science, which creates poor permitting decisions that allow crucial panther habitat to be destroyed.
A scientific panel, commissioned by the wildlife service, drew similar conclusions in December after reviewing research used by the state and federal agencies to set policy. The panel issued a report, scathing in some sections, saying the service should immediately stop using its modeling method that puts priority on forested habitat.
The panel of four experts from outside Florida also recommended the appointment of an independent scientific steering committee and a re-analysis of existing data. It chided the agencies for allowing panther research to lag.
The wildlife service also is embroiled in at least two lawsuits raising similar concerns brought against it by the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Panther Society.
Officials at the state and federal level have been taken aback by the fervor of their critics.
“We are the catalyst that has helped to understand how to protect the panther and its habitat,” said Jay Slack, field supervisor for the federal wildlife service in Vero Beach. “We are really serious about protecting the Florida panther. It’s the right thing to do and we are bringing all of our knowledge and resources to bear on doing just that.”
Both the state and federal agencies point to the huge volume of information collected, hundreds of thousands of protected acres and wildlife underpasses built under South Florida highways.
“If you look at where cats are today compared to where they were 20 years ago, it’s been an incredible effort with significant results to further the conservation of the species,” said Thomas Eason, bureau chief of the state wildlife commission’s bureau of wildlife diversity and conservation.
“It’s been at great effort and cost to a lot of people,” Eason said, including all the Floridians who bought the 1.4 million panther license plates sold since 1993. “We’ve thrown a lot of money and resources at it and I think it’s paid off for the panther.”
The commission has monitored 132 panthers during the past 23 years, officials said.
Darrell Land, panther coordinator for the wildlife commission, has worked in the panther program for 20 years.
“I feel pretty good about it but we shouldn’t dust off our hands and act like the job is done,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before having a population we don’t have to manage.”
The cats “will always be in danger but we’re at a point where we can keep panthers here into the foreseeable future,” Land said.
The Florida panther, a genetically distinct part of the puma family, was placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1967 because of its dramatically declining numbers. Cats that once roamed the entire Eastern seaboard were confined to a shrinking population in the lower half of Florida.
In 1979, the state wildlife commission began capturing panthers and putting radio collars on them to track their movements. They learned where the panthers were, where they traveled and how they interacted with each other and their environment.
When the panthers still ranged throughout the Southeast, experts say they periodically crossbred with Texas pumas. When that ended, the genetic variation that sustains a healthy population gradually gave way to genetic problems that come with inbreeding.
In 1995, the state and federal governments began a genetic restoration project. Eight Texas females were released in South Florida and produced 17 kittens. The last of those females were removed last fall and retired to a private wildlife conservation center.
Genetic intervention will have to continue as long as there are fewer than 100 panthers, because the cats won’t be able to find mates they’re not related to, Land said. But the next phase won’t start until more studies are completed on the long-term results of the last effort.
The panthers, meanwhile, have problems all on their own, even without human impacts.
NATURE TAKES ITS TOLL
In 2002, 30 kittens were born from radio-collared females.
“That was really an amazing year,” said Layne Hamilton, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. But, fewer than half that year’s kittens survived.
“It’s a hard life. Sometimes the mothers aren’t real experienced at raising kittens,” Hamilton said. “There are a lot of things coming at the population that are challenging us in trying to manage it and allow it to grow.”
Biologists think two of the 2002 kittens may have died from anemia from mosquito bites. Hamilton said one biologist working that summer said the mosquitoes were so thick he could hardly breathe.
Predators, road kills and feline leukemia are among the other dangers, but biologists say the biggest cause of death is territorial aggression. Hamilton said most male panthers don’t live past 18 months because they’re killed by other males, Hamilton said.
Last August biologists released two panther siblings, a male and a female, orphaned about a year earlier when an uncollared male killed their mother. Three months later, the young male was killed, apparently by the male that killed his mother. Meanwhile, the female may be pregnant by that same male.
“It’s kind of a soap opera out there,” Hamilton said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”
DEVELOPME NT VS. PANTHERS
The lack of agreement among experts about precisely what makes up ideal habitat creates confusion and conflict among developers, their consultants, environmental groups and the agencies involved in panther protection.
Generally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for permitting development projects. If the Corps decides the project may impact an endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service is called in.
The service, for example, consults on projects that may affect panthers within a designated priority area in Southwest Florida that includes Big Cypress Swamp, the Everglades and several preservation areas.
The permitting guidelines say the agencies are to use the best available science to evaluate direct and indirect impacts and minimize impacts where possible.
Environmental groups argue that 13,000 acres of habitat have been destroyed by development in South Florida. But the wildlife service says not all of the permitted development destroys habitat. The habitat may be disturbed and then later used again by panthers.
They say of 11,263 acres of development permitted since January 2002, 6,496 acres have been permanently preserved or improved by developers through such projects as removing exotic species and restoring native landscapes.
Since 2000, the wildlife service has been working on new guidelines to “ensure the survival and recovery of the panther.” A new panther habitat conservation plan and a landscape conservation plan to help guide property owners, agencies and permitters are expected to be released later this year, said Bert Byers, spokesman for the wildlife service’s Vero Beach regional office. The habitat plan also will include a new priority area map that will increase the area within which permit applications require federal review.
The wildlife service also is working on a revised recovery plan. The plans, required for all endangered species, spell out how the service hopes to bring the animals back to the point they can be removed from the endangered list.
The current recovery panther plan, developed in conjunction with the state and other interested parties, was last revised in 1995. Initially the service said the new plan would be ready this fall, but now reports it probably won’t be ready until 2005.
It frustrates environmental groups that the federal government moves so slowly, said Karen Hill, vice president of the Florida Panther Society.
“They keep saying they’re going to do something but we have yet to see anything,” Hill said. “The new conservation strategy for panther habitat has been dragging for years.”
The environmental groups’ lawsuit mentions that delay, stating the federal government has failed to produce “a meaningful plan” to guide development and uses bad science to issue permits.
“Developers are rapidly mining, bulldozing, clearing and paving the natural landscapes needed for the panther to survive,” the suit states.
In one suit, the environmental group wants to stop the federal permit for a 3,212-acre limerock-mining pit in Fort Myers. The groups say the buffers and other trade-offs proposed for the Florida Rock mine will not make up for the isolation of panther territories and the damage to more than 5,000 acres.
“If this rate of habitat loss keeps up over the next five to 10 years, the panthers would be facing extinction,” said the panther society’s Hill.
Both lawsuits were filed in the District Court in Washington, D.C.
In the other suit, the groups allege the service has failed to protect the panther by ignoring the concerns of its own biologists and other scientists and by putting too much emphasis on protecting forested lands and not enough on other kinds of habitat that panthers also use.
John Kostyack, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said the wildlife groups don’t disagree with “every aspect of federal policy.”
“We praise them for the acquisitions and the wildlife crossing,” Kostyack said. “And the restoration was a big success.”
However, Kostyack said the results of the recent reviews mean “we’re going to have to change the way they develop in South Florida.”
The success of the genetic restoration program could serve as a model for a similar effort to preserve habitat, said Hill.
“The panthers were facing genetic crisis and all the agencies and conservation groups came together and did what needed to be done to save the panthers,” she said. “That’s what needs to happen again.”
Panther/cougar program appears to be working April 2004
FT. MYERS, FL (AP) — Wildlife experts say the program that put eight Texas cougars into the wilds of Florida to help the endangered Florida panther to survive is working.
Biologists say five of the eight animals released in south Florida died in the wild. (killed by hunters) The others were recaptured and removed last year, after apparently doing their jobs. (and the remaining three cats were accidently sent by the state to a canned hunt operation in TX)
If NOT for those cats, state biologists say the Florida panther would be nearly extinct today. Before 1995, the population was estimated between 30 and 50 animals. The latest estimate is between 80 and 100.
Wildlife officials released the eight female Texas cougars in Big Cypress, Everglades National Park and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Experts say the new cats are still genuine Florida panthers, since the two subspecies likely mated when their ranges overlapped more than 100 years ago.
In late January, a rehabilitated orphan Florida panther known as FP219 was released back into the wild. That alone is a happy story, but what makes it even more special is what biologists found a few months later — a kitten! FP219 had successfully adapted to living in the wild and was raising a healthy newborn! his kitten, dubbed K398, represents a hope for the future of Florida panthers and is a promising addition to the endangered species population!
These and other successes are the direct result of hard work that individuals, like you, fight for every day. I am continually inspired by your passion and dedication — you empower and renew our mission with every action you take, petition you sign, and support you offer.
From our team and from wildlife — a true and sincere thank you for all of your help.
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife
P.S. These stories and others are published and tracked weekly on our blog—designed specifically for you to stay up to date with what we do and to see how your actions affect wildlife on the ground and in the sea. Check it out at www.defendersblog.org
Now They Want to Arrest YOU!
It’s hard to imagine that Big Agriculture could get any more extreme in defending factory farm abuse –but that is exactly what is happening right now.
We are currently facing a legal onslaught designed to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public.
Controversial “ag gag” laws have made it a crime to go undercover and investigate factory farms. They’re trying to intimidate animal activists and stop them from collecting evidence of horrific and illegal abuse of animals. And now, the first animal rights activist in the nation (pictured right) was recently prosecuted under one of these laws in Utah.
This could have been you … or me … or anyone else who tries to protect defenseless animals. We cannotstand by and do nothing. ALDF is standing up for innocent animals and has spearheaded an historic lawsuit challenging Utah’s ag gag law as unconstitutional.
Make no mistake about it: Factory farms have good reason to keep their cruel practices hidden from public view. Shocking exposés from undercover investigations reveal severe animal abuse on factory farms. We’ve also seen:
Ammonia and pink slime in hamburgers.
Chickens abandoned by the thousands to starve to death.
Utah is not alone. Missouri, Iowa and three other states have already passed similar ag gag laws – and 11 more states, including California, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, introduced bills in 2013 to obstruct animal rights investigations.
These laws would turn people who want to stop animal abuse into criminals. If these laws stand, mega-corporations could wipe out decades’ worth of anti-cruelty victories that we have fought so hard to win.
Now available in iTunes and watch for the launch of our iTunes and Android apps in the iTunes Store and Google Play Store. Before we even announced the Cat Chat show there were 51 downloads from our RSS feed here: http://bigcatrescue.libsyn.com/rss
You can see a YouTube Playlist of the video version of the Cat Chat shows here:
The public has reported hundreds of sightings of Florida panthers to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website launched a year ago, where people can record when and where they saw a panther or its tracks.
Only 12 percent of the reports included a photograph and could be evaluated by Commission biologists. Of those with photos, the majority were confirmed as panthers. Other animals identified by FWC biologists were bobcats, foxes, coyotes, dogs, house cats and even a monkey. Most often the reported animal or tracks belonged to a bobcat, when it was not a panther. The verified panther reports were largely confined to southwest Florida, the well-documented breeding range for panthers in the state. There also were several verified sightings in south central Florida.
“The public’s willingness to share what they have seen or collected on game cameras is incredibly helpful and shows us where panthers presumably are roaming in Florida,” said Darrell Land, who heads the FWC’s panther team. “We thank everyone using the Report Florida Panther Sightings website and encourage others to participate in this citizen-science venture.”
“As the population of this endangered species grows, the FWC expects more Florida panthers to be seen in areas of the state where they have not lived for decades,” Land said. “To properly plan and manage for the expansion of the panther’s range in Florida, information about where the panthers are is vital.”
The Florida panther population is estimated to be 100 to 160 adults and yearlings, a figure that does not include panther kittens. As recently as the 1970s, the Florida panther was close to disappearing, with as few as 20 animals in the wild.