For Immediate Release: Jan 02, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Another Lethal Year for Florida Panthers in 2017
Deaths Again Outstrip Litters with Heavy Toll on Females of Reproductive Age
Washington, DC — For the fourth year in a row at least 30 highly endangered Florida panthers perished, with mortality again substantially outpacing births, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Each year’s loss represents a significant portion of the total population but the state lacks reliable estimates of how many of these alpha-predators remain in the wild.
In 2017 through mid-December, 30 panthers were reported killed, a decrease from the all-time loss totals recorded in 2016 and 2015, but well above previous year totals. Of particular note –
- More than one third killed in 2017 were females of reproductive age, whose survival is key to re-growing the population;
- Only 19 kittens were born in 2017 liters, well below a replacement rate, continuing this negative trend. Litters last balanced deaths in 2014; and
- 2017 also set a new record for the percentage of panthers killed in collisions with motor vehicles, accounting for 83% of all panther mortality.
“The Florida panther is suffering slow-motion extinction,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, which unsuccessfully sued to win critical habitat designation for the Florida panther. “The current official ‘Recovery Plan’ for the Florida panther states that ‘Range expansion and reintroduction of additional populations’ are vital to reestablishing viability but neither have occurred since this plan was published back in 2008.”
Recovery is also complicated by deep uncertainty surrounding how many Florida panthers exist outside of captivity. For years, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimated that there are between 100 and 180 animals. However, that static number ignored the high and growing rate of panther mortality. In 2017, FWC contends that “the panther population is likely between 120 and 230” but admits this huge variation “does not account for sampling effort, imperfect detection of animals, or provide a margin of error, [and therefore] it can’t be categorized as a scientific population estimate.”
“How can one prudently plan for Florida panther recovery when the size and character of the population remains a mystery?” asked Ruch, noting that only a small number of panthers are radio-collared and aerial surveillance of the cats ended in 2013. “There are currently no coherent efforts to save the Florida panther from extirpation in the wild, and during a Trump presidency we are unlikely to see one emerge.”
North American cougars once had the broadest distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere. Today, the only population east of the Mississippi is confined to a fragment of southwest Florida.