The Florida panther is a subspecies of the North American cougar, which once had the broadest distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere. The only known population of the cougar east of the Mississippi, Florida panthers are today confined to southwest Florida on a fragment of their former range.
Thought to be extinct around 1970, the panther was brought back from its near-demise by the introduction of eight female cougars from Texas in 1995. Though their successful reproduction introduced needed genetic variability into the surviving pool, the 100 or so panthers alive today remain dangerously isolated by development.
The big cats require large, overlapping home ranges in order to reproduce, as male cats may disperse over 100 miles in order to establish their own home ranges. Despite its admission that recovery will depend on the protection of habitat well beyond the current breeding range of 3,548 square miles in south Florida, the FWS has persisted in refusing to designate critical habitat for the panther.
PEER's petition for critical habitat, which the FWS denied, calls for the designation of approximately 4,860 square miles of protected area that will begin to allow panthers to disperse into their formerly occupied range to the north. Take action to ensure that the Obama Administration protects adequate habitat to ensure a full recovery.