The panthers from Florida once roamed the southeastern United States. Now, the few panthers left in the wild are confined to remote cypress swamps in southwestern Florida.
The panthers are the most endangered species of mammal in the U.S.
It’s estimated that there are fewer than 100 left in the wild. These last panthers live in the tip of Florida, south of Lake Okeechobee. They’re large, tawny-colored cats that laze around in the day and hunt at night. By the 1950s, they were hunted to near extinction. In 1967, the Florida panthers joined the list of endangered species with the name Puma concolor coryi.
By that time, genetic defects were killing off the last panthers — the result of inbreeding among a small, isolated population. In 1995, to revitalize the gene flow, eight female Texas cougars were introduced into the panther population. Panthers bred naturally with Texas cougars back when their ranges overlapped. Now, it appears the cougar-panther offspring have saved the panthers of Florida from certain demise.
Human development is quickly crowding out what little wild land is left in Florida. Roads are a problem, too. But “right of way” fencing and “panther crossings” have been installed along some roadways that cross public lands. No panthers have been killed where this “right of way” fencing is set up.
Each panther needs up to 200 square miles of habitat. Since the early 1970’s, over 800 thousand hectares — over two million acres — of land in Florida have been set aside for wildlife. But the panthers, whose range is wide, will need even more protected land to survive.