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Florida Panther - felis concolor coryi
Picture of a Florida Panther
Florida Panther

The Florida Panther is a tawny-colored, large, muscular cat related to the mountain lions in the Rocky Mountains and Puma of the Pacific Northwest that inhabits territory solely in Florida, primarily southwestern Florida, hence named the Florida Panther.

The Florida species is slightly darker in color that the other subspecies and has longer legs and smaller feet. There are no distinguishing marks to tell male panthers from female panthers except for their size. They have a long, sweeping tail which is almost two-thirds the length of its body. The Florida Panther has short, round ears with patches of dark hair on the tip of its tail.

Today the Florida Panther is found mostly south of Lake Okeechobee where they prefer to live in the hardwood hammocks, pine flatwood and mixed swamp forests. This type terrain gives them the cover they need and proximity to the larger mammals they prefer in their diet. The Florida Panther is found in and around Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and other public and private lands in south Florida. They are solitary animals, secretive by nature, and avoid others although mating pairs and siblings stay together for some time. Their young are born with a protective spotted coat and have deep blue eyes which stays until they are approximately one year of age. The eyes become a yellow-brown as adults.

Panthers are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and early dusk. They travel and hunt during the early morning or late evening, resting through the sometimes harsh heat of a tropical day. With extreme night vision, they are also nocturnal and known to travel and hunt at night also to avoid the heat of the day. Florida Panther prey includes white-tailed deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, rodents, birds, small alligators and waterfowl. They are stealth, powerful hunters, excellent swimmers crossing large wide bodies of water and can achieve a running speed of over 35 mph but only for a few hundred yards .

In an effort to restore genetic diversification and save the Panther, in 1995 eight Texas cougars were captured and reintroduced to Florida - then becoming "Florida Panthers". These efforts in conjunction with the reintroduction of captive-bred panthers to the wild are being made to try to save these animals from extinction. The most important component for survival is the preservation of habitat which must be managed to ensure there is adequate land and prey to support the Florida Panther. Florida natural habitat for these animals is ever diminishing with human encroachment and its ever expanding network of roadways and highways in our urbanization of the State. It is interesting to note that at one time the State of Florida paid farmers a bounty for this animal which was considered a threat at that time.

Panthers require large, natural habitats with prey to survive in the wilderness. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples, was established on 25,000 acres in 1989. This refuge is used by 5 to 11 panthers that den, hunt and travel in this protected area. This refuge is not open to the public in an effort to protect these animals and their prey. The Florida Panther has been on the Federal Endangered Species list since 1967 and on the State's Endangered list since 1973. The Nature Conservancy and the Florida Forever program have identified 3 other projects as prime panther habitat including the Caloosahatchee Ecoscape, Twelve-Mile Slough and remaining parcels of Fisheating Creek. Once acquired, these properties, combined with the already protected Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, will protect more than 285,000 acres of panther habitat. Scientists estimate current Florida Panther population at between 60 - 80 animals. The Florida Panther has an average life span of 12 years in the wild.

Primary threat is contact with man and, as is true with our extremely rare Key Deer (odocoileus virginianus clavium) with an exclusive population in Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, is the danger of vehicular death on the highways. The Florida Panther is not a good candidate for EcoTourism because of the extremely small population and due to their elusive nature. We have very little chance to see one in the wild. In order to protect the species from extinction we must make every effort to preserve their natural habitat and implement conservation methods, such as highway underpasses allowing them access to their territory and prey in order for them to survive.

Scientific Data: Same as for Cougar (with exception of geographic territory and natural prey differences)

Conservation Status: Listed on CITES Appendix 1, Endangered Species Act.
(All wildcats are listed on CITES Appendix I or II).

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