Panther encounters growing more common in Golden Gate Estates
June 25, 12:19 PMFt. Myers Nature ExaminerRenee Wilson
Click on story to view picture of mother panther with 3 kittens
Several incidents involving endangered Florida panthers have been reported near Naples over the past few months. According to Mark Lotz, panther biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, panther tracks, scat, eyewitness accounts, livestock depredation and even a roadkill have all been confirmed in the northwestern block of Golden Gate Estates since late April.
The Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, is the Eastern United States’ largest wild cat. Geographically isolated from other members of the cat species that once roamed most of North America, the Florida panther is closely related to Texas cougars and California mountain lions.
Thanks to a combination of conservation efforts in the 1990’s, Florida panthers were brought back from the brink of extinction. The population has stabilized and around 100 cats are now estimated to be roaming the southern part of the state.
While the cat population climbed, the human population in our state exploded. Throughout the 1990’s, the Naples area was consistently ranked among the top 20 fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. With more and more people, residential areas began expanding into panther territory, resulting in an increase in the number of human-panther encounters.
Panthers are shy, secretive, nocturnal predators of deer, feral hogs, and small game. While no attacks on humans have ever been documented in our state, people’s goats, chickens and other livestock are not always so lucky.
Several residents in the Golden Gate Estates area of Naples have encountered panthers recently. The area with the most panther activity is located between Wilson Boulevard and Collier Boulevard along Golden Gate Boulevard, about 15 miles northeast of the City of Naples. Wildlife cameras set up by Lotz and other biologists just last week confirmed the presence of an adult female and three kittens adjacent to livestock pens behind a residence in this area.
These denizens of the dark are learning that unprotected domestic animals make easy targets. Unfortunately, when panthers take advantage of this domestic “buffet,” livestock owners often blame the cats for doing what comes naturally. In addition, the cats are leaving the safety of rural areas and more often becoming victims of collisions with vehicles.
To prevent depredation by panthers, livestock owners are urged to pen animals at night in a completely enclosed (ground to roof) covered enclosure with fencing extending to one foot below ground level. This type of outdoor enclosure could also be used for cats, dogs and other pets that can serve as food items for a panther.
Because we have chosen to live in panther country, sound enclosures are the only way to keep pets and livestock safe while supporting panther conservation efforts. When panthers are not successful in getting their meals from residential areas, they will be less likely to return.