Three endangered cats killed by cars within seven days
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Last week was not a good one for Florida panthers, as three of the endangered cats were killed by vehicles on southern Florida roads. Total documented panther deaths for the year now stand at 19, getting close to the record 24 mortalities tallied in 2011.
One was a mature (2.5 year-old) radio-collared female; another was a juvenile (three-month old) un-collared female and the third was a one-year-old un-collared male.
Wildlife advocates say the increasing number of road kills is not a good sign for the species, which is barely hanging on in south Florida. All three of the accidents last week were in Collier County, according to a list released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Some state officials have sought to downplay the deaths by asserting that they are a sign of an expanding population, but the science doesn’t back up those claims.
PEER pointed out that all three of last week’s deaths deaths were in existing panther range in Southwest Florida.
“The rationalizations for official inaction get more creative year-by-year,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch. “Rising road-kill is not a good sign for the Florida panther.
“Despite all the scientific conferences and papers, our Florida panther management strategy basically is to collect the carcasses and hope for the best,” Ruch said.
Wildlife officials estimate the wild population of panthers at about 100 to 120 animals. It’s not clear if the reproduction rate is keeping up with current mortality rate. Conservation activists say the cats need more protected habitat in Florida where they can roam, forage and breed without encountering cars and trucks.
This year’s road kill deaths have already outpaced 2011, with the busiest part of the tourist season just starting. The loss of breeding-age females is a particularly big blow to the endangered species.
Habitat continues to be lost to Florida’s sprawling development, and the animals could lose even more ground as federal land managers plan to open backcountry areas Big Cypress National Preserve to all-terrain vehicles — all while failing to protect enough critical habitat for the cats.
Both a critical habitat designation and the ATV proposal at Big Cypress are subject of ongoing legal battles.
More info on Florida panthers via PEER:
- View 2012 Florida panther fatalities
- See battle to win critical habitat to shelter Florida panther
- Look at fight to protect panthers in Big Cypress
- Examine downward spiral of Florida panther population