FLORIDA PANTHERS ROAM WILD IN THE SOUTHEAST?
5 , 2017
them cougars, panthers, pumas, catamounts or mountain lions. All are
the same species of big cat, and they may be back. Some are considered
different subspecies based on genetic evidence, but for practical purposes
they are the same animal, whether in Florida, Canada or southern Chile.
Aside from humans, cougars have the largest geographic range of any
mammal in the western hemisphere.
than 1,500 panther sightings were reported last year in Florida. Most
were never confirmed, but some were. The Florida panther is a native
cat that is unquestionably still roaming the countryside. Documented
reports of cougars are common in the western states every year. But
if you see one east of the Mississippi River outside of Florida, you
will need to prove it to be believed.
most large animals that cross paths with humans on a frequent basis,
deaths can occur. Horses, cows and dogs are responsible for more human
deaths each year than panthers can be indicted for in a century.
to the highly reliable records reported by R.M. Nowak in Walkers
Mammals of the World, documented human deaths from panthers in
the United States and Canada from 1890 up to 1990 totaled nine
less than a person per decade. A few more attacks on humans in
western states have been reported in the last quarter century, probably
because of the burgeoning human population growth that is expanding
into natural habitats formerly occupied by panthers but few people.
eastern U.S. concentration of panthers is currently in Florida. According
to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, fewer than
30 Florida panthers existed in the early 20th century. As of February
2017, at least 120 wild Florida panthers are estimated to be in the
region, and that the number could be as high as 230.
into perspective the challenge for wildlife biologists trying to determine
panther population size, the total home range covered by a single individual
in a Texas study was more than 700 square miles in a single year! If
Florida panthers move around only half as much (and some radio-telemetered
ones have been recorded to do so), counting how many are in southern
Florida is a challenging task.
back in the eastern states where they once were widespread? Based on
their known localities in Florida and on research that has established
unequivocally that a panther can travel overland more than 500 miles,
an individual could end up in southern Alabama or Georgia. Of course,
it would have to avoid being killed on Interstate 10 and any number
of other roads along the way.
would probably be a wandering male that would have a lonely existence
and produce no offspring, so a panther population would not be forthcoming.
A panther was videotaped in Tennessee in recent months and one was killed
in New England. But these are outliers, not indicators that the species
is back to stay.
or more likely hundreds, of reports of panthers are made each year in
eastern states where there have been no officially documented occurrences
of the species in the past century. Several people have told me of seeing
a panther in South Carolina, and I can personally only dispute two of
case I was shown a road-killed bobcat (a big one). For the other, the
evidence was a plaster cast of a foot print, which turned out to be
a large dog.
a colleague who traveled to a town in Tennessee to confirm the identity
of a yellow mountain lion shot while up in a tree. That
one happened to be a 40-pound house cat, which was impressive in its
really are back in the eastern states outside Florida, you may see one.
Be sure to have your cell phone and camera with you.
you have an environmental question or comment, email