For Immediate Release: Thursday, January 9, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade (240) 247-0296
Net Loss of More than 100 Cats in Last Five Years as Births Plunge
Washington, DC — For the fifth year in a row, mortality of highly endangered Florida panthers has substantially exceeded births, resulting in a net loss of 103 panthers since 2015, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The 2019 numbers also reflect a record high percent of vehicular deaths and a rising mortality among females of reproductive age, whose survival is key to re-growing the population.
“Florida panthers are in a slow-motion spiral toward extinction,” stated Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of PEER, which unsuccessfully sued to win designation of critical habitat for the Florida panther, noting nearly 90% of known panther deaths are from vehicular collisions.
“Today, Florida offers little safe habitat for panthers, with less available each passing year.”
The 2019 figures from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) show –
- Another 27 panthers perished, 24 from vehicular collisions. In the first few days of 2020, a 28th panther (a two-year old female) was also killed after being hit by a car;
- Only 11 kittens were born in 2019 litters, well below a replacement level, continuing a negative five-year trend. Litters last balanced deaths in 2014; and
- Since 2015, Florida has experienced almost twice as many panther deaths as births, resulting in a net loss of 103 panthers during that period.
The net loss of 103 panthers approaches the lower bounds of the official estimate for the total population. In its latest estimate, dated February 2017, FWC contends that “the panther population is likely between 120 and 230” yet there has been a net loss of 48 panthers just since that estimate was published. FWC admits that its 120-to-230 number reflects “imperfect detection of animals” and therefore cannot “be categorized as a scientific population estimate.”
The last official “Recovery Plan” for the Florida panther was published in 2008. It calls for two populations of 240 panthers each before removing it from the federal list of endangered species. Prospects for meeting that goal appear to become increasingly remote, however.
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. To make matters worse, a new debilitating neurological disorder is now being seen among remaining Florida panthers and bobcats.
“Official obfuscation cannot hide the fact that Florida’s panthers are disappearing,” Whitehouse added. “Unfortunately, there is no official strategy to prevent extirpation of the Florida panther in the wild.”