Collier County deputy records encounter with Florida panther

Reporter: Gina Tomlinson Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Shot from a CCSO video of a deputy’s panther sighting. Credit: Collier County Sheriff’s Office

The Collier County Sheriff’s Department posted a video to its official Twitter account of one of its personnel, community service deputy Brandi Ahrens, recording a very close sighting of a Florida panther.

The endangered felines have been in the news often recently, usually due to being killed in traffic or dwelling in areas threatened by planned development.

”Usually, you only see them if you’re really far from people and out in the middle of nowhere,” Dorian Munk said.

“I might have turned, tailed and run on that one,” Ben Gray said.

We showed the video to families hiking the trail.

“That’s pretty crazy to have it that close to the vehicle with obviously people in it,” Munk said.

“During the day, and I wouldn’t think of that happening,” Gray said.

It’s an eye-opening experience after a panther spotted was also spotted at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary a few weeks ago east of Bonita Springs.

“They’re definitely in the area,” Munk said. “Keep little kids close. Don’t let them go wandering off alone because that’s when you run into problems.”

Chances of seeing a panther are slim, but to stay safe if you ever encounter the wild animal, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says don’t run, give them plenty of space, and making big gestures or noises will likely scare the panther off.

Experts say about 130 Florida panthers are left in Florida.

FWC tips for Florida panther encounters

The Florida panther moves primarily at night. The chances of seeing a panther are slim. But if you live in Florida panther country, you need to know what to do if you see one.

Keep children within sight and close to you. Pick up any small children so they don’t panic and run. Try to do this without bending over or turning away from the Florida panther.

Give them space. Florida panthers typically will avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

Do not run. Running may stimulate a panther’s instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact to let the panther know you are aware of its presence.

Avoid crouching or bending over. Squatting or bending makes you look smaller, resembling a prey-sized animal.

Appear larger. Make gestures that indicate you are not prey and that you may be a danger to the panther. Raise your arms. Open your jacket. Throw stones, branches or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.

Fight back if attacked. There has never been a reported panther attack in Florida. In western states, where attacks by cougars have occurred very rarely, potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since large cats usually try to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the animal.

There are several things people can do to help Florida panthers:

  • Slow down when you are driving along rural highways, especially where panther crossings are identified. It is especially important to slow down and keep a careful lookout at dawn or dusk, when panthers are most likely to be on the move. Scan the road and shoulder ahead. If you see a panther cross the road ahead of you, slow down, there could be others
  • Report sightings of injured or dead panthers by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. Another option is texting
  • Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a Protect the Panther license plate. Learn more at Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers
  • People can help with panther research by reporting sightings at Reporting your observations can help FWC biologists address panther conservation needs by identifying the areas used by these large cats

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