With cooler temperatures throughout the Sunshine State, more people are likely to head to the woods to enjoy hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking the public to assist with Florida panther research and management by reporting sightings of the large feline to the agency’s panther sightings webpage.
The FWC is interested in photos of panthers or their tracks. Anyone lucky enough to capture this large cat on camera is encouraged to submit the picture and sighting location to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.
“We really value citizen science here at the FWC. People taking pictures of panthers and submitting them to our webpage, helps us to better understand panther range,” said Kipp Frohlich, Deputy Director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “These sightings also help us with our efforts to better manage human-panther interactions through landowner assistance, outreach and education.”
Biologists have been pleased with the number of reports received through the panther sightings webpage over the last 4.5 years. Since the project began, the FWC has received more than 3,700 reports, of which biologists were able to verify 922 based on photos of the animal or its footprints. Most of the reports came from southwest Florida, however, there were some panthers documented on the east coast near Vero Beach and in central Florida near Orlando.
“We are pleased that so many people are taking the time to share their panther sightings with us. These citizen scientists are providing more ‘eyes in the woods,’ thereby helping FWC monitor the whereabouts of Florida’s state animal,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader. “This is a great way for both Florida residents and visitors to help with panther conservation and management. We encourage more folks to upload their trail camera pictures to our webpage because this information is extremely valuable to us,” said Land.
Biologists are especially interested in pictures of panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River, which runs from Lake Okeechobee to Ft. Myers. There are few sightings or photos of panthers in this part of the state. Currently, the only known breeding population of Florida panthers is south of the river in southwest Florida.
The panther sightings webpage includes information about the animals, including how to identify them, what to do or not do when you see one, and a Google map making it easy to pinpoint the sighting location.
Additional information about Florida panthers, including tips on how to safely coexist with them and the “E-Z Guide to Identify Panther Tracks,” can be found at FloridaPantherNet.org.
Florida residents can also help support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate at BuyaPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.
To sign up for email updates, including mortality and depredation information, visit MyFWC.com and click on “Sign up for FWC news updates.”