The Florida panther is an example of a conservation success story. However, this success has resulted in challenges.
Over the past few decades, the panther population has grown significantly. There were only 20 to 30 adult panthers in the 1970s. Today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimates the population at 120 to 230 animals. As the population grows, the chance for interaction between panthers and humans also increases – which can be bad for both people and panthers.
At one time, reports of panther sightings were rare. Today, panthers are being seen with increasing frequency, particularly in Collier County. In addition to sightings, there has been an increase in panthers killing pets and livestock.
Panthers typically prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation.
The FWC investigates reports of panther depredations on pets and livestock, and works with residents to reduce these incidents. In 2016, FWC staff verified more than 40 panther depredation events. Most of these occurred in the residential community of Golden Gate Estates in Collier County.
The Estates are bordered by the Picayune Strand State Forest to the south, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the east and the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed to the north. All of these public lands support panthers. The Estates cover over 100 square miles, and contain large areas of native habitat that are used by wildlife including bears, coyotes and panthers. In addition, many residents in the Estates keep small livestock on their property, which can appear to be easy prey for predators.
“People can help protect pets and backyard animals by taking precautions,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “The best way to protect small livestock from any predator is to keep the animals in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night. Also, pets like dogs and cats should be kept indoors at night or, if kept outside, then in a secure kennel with a roof.”
Reports of dangerous encounters with panthers are very rare in Florida. However, panthers are large, powerful predators, and people should use caution if they see one. Here are some tips to avoid a negative interaction if you encounter a panther:
Give the panther space. Most Florida panthers will avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
Do not run. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
Avoid crouching or bending over, as it makes you look smaller, resembling a prey-sized animal.
If attacked, fight back with whatever is at hand without turning your back.
If you experience a panther depredation or encounter, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.
“Securing pets and livestock in panther-resistant enclosures should work to reduce conflicts with panthers. However, if people need additional assistance, the FWC can provide technical support and explore other options,” said Land. “But we need people to tell us about the situation before we can help them.”
For more information about how to protect people, pets and livestock from panthers and other predators, visit FloridaPantherNet.org and click on “Living in Panther Country.”
To see if panther depredations are occurring in your area, visit FloridaPantherNet.org, click on “Panther Pulse” and scroll down to “Depredations.” You can sign up to receive panther information, including depredation and mortality email updates, by simply clicking ”Sign Up” at the top of any MyFWC.com page of and selecting “Florida Panther” under the “Wildlife/Managed Species” section.
Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate, available at BuyaPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.
You can help with panther research by reporting panther sightings and uploading photos and videos to the FWC, at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.