Officials urge drivers to slow down in panther zones

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Officials are asking Southwest Florida drivers to heed their warnings and slow down in panther zones.

Jerry Webb, of Naples, stopped for a panther that was crossing a stretch of U.S. 41 heading towards Everglades City.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said drivers need to reduce their speed according to the night time speed limit sign posted in the panther zone.

Webb said if he hadn’t followed this guideline, the panther could have suffered a different fate.

“I would’ve never been able to stop in time because he was about 35 yards in front of me,” Webb said.

FWC released a panther and her kittens back into the wild months after the mother was hit by a car.

FWC patrolled a panther zone, where officers issued more than a dozen warnings and nine speeding citations. The highest speed was 83 mph.

“Collisions with vehicles is one of the top if not the top cause of mortality for Florida panthers that we know and we can document,” said Amy Crooks, an environmental policy manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida,

There have been 14 panther deaths so far in 2018, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Not all of the deaths were in panther zones and 12 were hit by cars.

Crooks said some instances involving panther deaths do not happen in rural areas.

“We’ve actually had panthers hit by vehicles even on some of our more urban roadways like on Golden Gate Boulevard (and) Collier Boulevard 951,” Crooks said.

Officials are urging drivers to stay alert on the road.

“It just takes a couple extra seconds to slow down,” said Dan Eleczko, of Naples.

Webb said he’d never want to be in that kind of situation.

“If I were to hit a panther, it would devastate me,” Webb said.

There were 24 panthers hit and killed by drivers in 2017, and 34 killed in 2016, according to the conservancy.

View the video of FWC releasing the panther and her cubs back into the wild:

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