They are rarely seen north of the Caloosahatchee River, but Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say a female Florida panther was recently seen in Charlotte County.
“These animals are out living in nature as they are supposed to,” said Callie Stahl, the executive director of Peace River Wildlife Center.
This is the first time in two years a female panther spotted was north of the Caloosahatchee. A trail camera captured the wildcat in eastern Charlotte County this past December.
“I believe this particular female panther most likely resides in Charlotte County area,” said Melody Kilborn, the public information director of FWC southwest region.
The Florida panther is an endangered species. FWC estimates between 120 to 230 adult panthers live in the state. Most are in Southwest Florida and moving north of the Caloosahatchee is difficult, especially for the females.
“The verification of female panthers demonstrates that they can and will expand their breeding territory off cross the river naturally,” Kilborn said.
So how did they get across?
“It is very possible that the panthers could use highway bridges to cross the Caloosahatchee River,” Kilborn said. “But, most likely, we presume that they would just simply cross the river by swimming.”
FWC confirmed the sighting through trail surveillance recordings and paw prints. Experts say the recorded evidence helps with research and conservation.
Anyone luck y enough to spot a Florida panther and capture an image or video of it is encourage to share it with FWC.
One way Floridians can help protect Florida panthers is by purchasing a “protect a panther” license plate from a nearby dmv. The proceeds are the primary source of funding for FWC’s panther research program.
Having that photographic evidence helps with research and conservation.
“It’s really rare for us to have some sort of photographic proof that someone has seen and identified a Florida panther,” Stahl said.