Florida Panthers Pad Toward Extinction
2018 Another High Lethality Year as Deaths Increasingly Outpace Declining Births
Washington, DC — For the fifth year in a row, at least 30 highly endangered Florida panthers perished, with mortality again substantially outpacing births and by growing margins, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). 2018 also set a record for the percentage of panthers killed in motor vehicle collisions, accounting for nearly 90% of panther mortality.
In 2018, another 30 panthers were reported killed, equaling last year’s toll. While 30 panthers represent a drop from the all-time loss totals for 2016 and 2015, it is well above previous year totals. Significantly –
- Only 9 kittens were born in 2018 litters, well below a replacement level, continuing a negative trend with births falling more than two-thirds in five years. Litters last balanced deaths in 2014;
- Since 2014, Florida has experienced almost twice as many panther deaths as births; and
- One third of the panthers killed in 2018 were females of reproductive age, whose survival is key to re-growing the population.
“With few safe havens, the Florida panther is being driven to extinction on state highways,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER, which unsuccessfully sued to win designation of critical habitat for the Florida panther. “With each passing year, the odds for Florida panther survival in the wild dwindle.”
Each year’s loss represents a significant portion of the total population, but the state admits that it still lacks reliable estimates of how many of these alpha predators remain in the wild. 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 contended 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.”
“The failure by both state and federal wildlife officials to acknowledge deteriorating panther survival is irresponsible,” added Ruch, pointing out that in just the past five years, there has been a net decrease of 86 panthers, a loss of between more than a third of the best-case scenario population estimate and more than three-quarters of the worst-case official population range. “By saying that the true situation is unknown, Florida’s official position on the health of its official state animal is putting its head in the sand.”
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.
The current official “Recovery Plan” for the Florida panther calls for two populations of 240 panthers each before removing it from the federal list of endangered species. Prospects for meeting that goal appears to become more remote with each passing year, however.