Florida panthers continue to lose habitat as SWFL grows

Reporter: Amy Galo Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Pushing Florida panthers out of their habitat and into the paths of vehicles. It seems as Southwest Florida grows, the number of panthers dwindles.

Up until two weeks ago, there were only eight panther deaths reported for 2023, but within days, that number jumped to twelve after multiple car strikes.

Panther numbers are dwindling. How many are left?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation estimates anywhere between 120 to 230, and while losing four in just one week may seem concerning, an expert WINK News spoke to said it’s unclear what this means in the long term for the species.

But one thing is for sure: we need to be more vigilant.

Four Florida panthers died in one week. All of them were struck by cars.

“Nothing moves as fast as a vehicle in a panther’s world,” said Meredith Budd from Live Widly.

And for the first time since 2021, two died on the same day.

“It’s obviously detrimental to [the] panther population. Collier, Hendry, Glades, Lee County, that is the core breeding habitat for the Florida panther,” Budd said.

But Southwest Florida is also a core place for the population growth of humankind.

“We have 1,000 people plus moving here every single day, to the state of Florida,” Budd said.

And with them comes the rapid development of new businesses and homes and, of course, new roads, but these roads directly impact the panther population.

“The immediate cause of mortality is certainly vehicle collision, but when we look at having a stable population and a growing population, what the large threat facing that — in facing recovery — is really habitat loss and habitat fragmentation,” Budd said.

This makes it harder for the endangered species to travel safely and grow their numbers.

“Without better planning, habitat loss is going to be a huge detriment to recovery,” Budd said.

Budd said local government should follow in the Florida Department of Transportation’s footsteps and prioritize Florida panther crossing locations.

“We need that same forward thinking at the local level, and we need funding for it. We need crossings on both local roads and on state roads,” Budd said.

Budd said it’s essential for drivers to be cautious at night. Panthers are most active around dawn and dusk. If you do hit a panther, you should contact the FWC immediately.

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