The Florida panther and the shrinking wildlands of the southeastern United States
Back in 2016, biologists found what were arguably the most important Florida panther tracks in history. What made them so special? They spotted the tracks north of the Caloosahatchee River, a waterway that had for decades isolated the endangered species, cutting them off from habitat to the north.
Most importantly, though, the tracks were those of a female cat — males had repeatedly crossed the river looking for territory, but a there had been no evidence of a female panther north of the river in the past 43 years.
Florida-born-and-raised National Geographic photographer Carlton Ward Jr. was already using camera traps — cameras mounted in strategic spots and triggered by animal movement — to snap images of panthers south of the river (there are some 200 of the cats remaining), but the new footprints sent him on a five-year quest to document “Babs,” the adventuresome female who’d dared to venture north.
Suburban development outside Orlando on land that was once panther habitat. As large landscapes are broken into smaller pieces, these fragments make it more difficult for panther and other animals to breed successfully and survive.(Carlton Ward) (Carlton Ward/Carlton Ward)
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