They’re the official state animal, yet the Florida panther is one of the most endangered species on Earth, with fewer than 180 of the big cats alive today. The breeding population of Florida panthers now exists only on the southern tip of the Sunshine State.
Noting the record number of panther deaths in 2015, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of the state’s 16th Congressional District says he’s calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate a “critical habitat” for the endangered animal. Wildlife officials said last week a 1-year-old Florida panther was killed by a vehicle, raising to 30 the number of automobile-related deaths in 2015. Roadkills are the leading cause of death for the animal.
“Each year, the Florida panther population continues to shrink in size as more big cats are hit and killed by cars because they lack a safe habitat,” Buchanan said in an email. “Although these panthers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they face extinction because they have no protected area to live and repopulate.”
This month Buchanan and several other Florida congressmen sent a letter to President Obama requesting a safe habitat for the Florida panther. The letter highlighted the need for a safe environment that would preserve valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, and drinking water supplies.
“We should not stand by and do nothing as yet another endangered species is wiped off the earth,” Buchanan said. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”
The panther was one of the original 14 mammals named to the endangered species list in 1967, but a critical habitat has never been established, even though one is required by the Endangered Species Act.
The Florida panther once roamed nearly all of the Southeastern United States. However, avid hunters and development whittled the species down to its endangered status. Under the current federal panther recovery plan, there must be three separate populations of 240 individuals before the animal can be removed from the Endangered Species list.