Lauren from Jacksonville asks:
"Is there some sort of "magic number" that wildlife officials feel is required for a healthy breeding population of panthers to survive, at least into the immediate future?"
Lauren, that is an excellent question in light of current events in south Florida right now. Many people at ground zero, that is Hendry, Collier, Monroe, and Lee Counties, are pleading with officials for some relief measures because they are insisting there are more panthers right now than the habitat can support. They make a very strong argument with photo after photo of panthers in backyards, panthers in driveways, panthers taking pets out of the yard, panthers looking in windows...and the current road kill numbers will break the record set last year, which broke the record the year before that, and on and on.
Have we met that "magic number" ? I cannot say. But the evidence mounts that we are at a crisis situation in these areas, and this would have been considered a laughable "no way" scenario 20 years ago. New management policies are being considered, and long-term answers are very difficult to figure out. We are all waiting to see...but I'll suggest this: If we cannot figure out how to slow down growth, or at least balance it with wildlife here in Florida, it really won't matter!
Connie from Sarasota, asks:
"I read the big article in The Washington Post about Texas cougars being used to help in the survival of the Florida panther in the wild. Does this mean these panthers are not an endangered species now?"
Connie, the cat may be out of the bag on this issue. These panthers are responsible for multi-million dollar planning issues in southwest Florida based on theirendangered species status . If, and believe me when I tell you that many people are taking a long, hard look at this issue, it is determined these panthers are not eligible for ESA protection....well, we have entered a whole new arena of developmental and habitat loss battles. I'm certainly not taking any sides on this, but this is big. REALLY BIG. We will keep our readers posted on this front! By the way, read Tommy's letter from several years ago (scroll down).
Jordan, from St. Petersburg, asks:
"Can we ask the Panther Project to send their exhibit and display to our event? We would like others to know about the Panther and what is happening in Florida. Please tell us how to get on the schedule!"
Thank you, Jordan! We would be very happy to bring our show to anyone that asks. We offer a slide show, and infomational talk, with handouts and goodies, and we also have a big display that we can set up for your neighborhood event or larger festival or carnival, if it is an outdoor show. AND IT'S ALWAYS FREE! Call Bill Samuels at 941-376-2357
Chris, from Bradenton, Florida, asks:
"What about the vicious attack on a miniature show horse last week? Two large guard dogs were killed. A vet seems to think it could have been a large cat, possibly a panther. Should we be afraid out here?"
You should be cautious, Chris, as anyone living in an area as rural as eastern Manatee County should be. Afraid? No, I don't think so. I don't believe any cat did this at all. It does, however, have all the earmarks (no pun intended) of a pit bull terrier attack. Speaking strictly from my personal experience, I believe that someone's hog-hunting dogs either got loose or were let run free that Saturday night. They got into that horse enclosure and did all that damage. I do believe that a cat might go after the horse...but it would leave at the approach of the guard dogs. One or more pit bulls, on the other hand, wouldnotleave.
This is purely speculation on my part, but I'll bet you that someone up there knows more about this than has come out, yet. I'm watching this case closely and will report more if I get any more info.
UPDATE 8/20/2010.......I spoke with a homeowner out there with strict promise of anonymity, and the verdict among the locals is that they know whose dogs did this but nobody can or will say a word. This is pretty much typical of small farmette, or ranchette, living. What goes on out there...staysout there, and that's simply the way it is. Period.
Jack, from Immokalee, Florida, asks:
"What is the situation with the problem panther that killed a bunch of goats and threatened two ranchers near Ochopee, Florida, this Spring? This one was becoming too "friendly" and did not appear to be afraid of humans near a campground. The authorities came in and removed this cat. Are these "panthers" just Texas cougars that have been re-located, and are they dangerous to human beings or not?
Wow, Jack, you cover a lot of ground with your letter! LOL
I will do my best to answer your concerns because they have been voiced to us many times. First of all, yes, a panther was removed by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel in June of this year from a campground within the borders of the Big Cypress Park after it killed about fifteen goats (over many nights, not all at once) on a man's ranch near Ochopee, and because it exhibited tendencies not normally associated with wild panthers, i.e. being too"friendly" , as you put it, and not completely afraid of humans.
Secondly, the panther was identified by FFWCC records as Florida Panther #60, a Florida- born panther that may or may not have some recent Texas cougar bloodlines.
Lastly, the big question raised by all of this...are they dangerous to people? The answer is yes, Jack. A panther is a carnivore, is equipped to kill other animals to survive, and can do so. Just like a full grown black bear, or an alligator, or any other predator for that matter, a panther can be very dangerous to people. While there are no documented cases of a panther attacking someone in Florida, no one can say it cannot happen. It is the responsibility of those in charge of the recovery of the panther in Florida to make sure people are as safe as possible, and rest assured, it is a weighty responsibility they take very seriously. For some good reading on this subject, I recommend David Baron's book, "The Beast in the Garden", published by W.W. Norton Co.2003
UPDATE! Florida, June 2004! Florida Panther #60 is in captivity, recovering from injuries probably sustained in a collision with a car. The injuries are consistent with those that might have made the panther unable to chase and kill normal prey, and resulted in the attacks on the goats. FFWCC and USFWS authorities are evaluating the prospects of some future return to the wild by this cat, should it recover sufficiently. In a related development, the Miccosukkee Indian Tribe has filed a formal Resolution condemning the above-mentioned agencies' position on re-introduction of panthers/cougars into south Florida. They claim it is unsafe to do so. Period.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2004 ! We have recently learned from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission that Panther #60 will probably not ever recover sufficiently to be released into the wild again. They will find a home for it and he will live out his life in captivity. This is a bonus for him, because his age would put him near the end of his expected lifespan in the wild, and this will probably add years to his life. On the second issue, repeated attempts to get information from both the Miccosukee Indian Tribe and the US Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the Tribal Resolution referred to above, and the official government response to it, have been fruitless. Nobody is saying a word at this point. Stay tuned!
Thanks for the question, Jack! Tough questions like yours are always appreciated, because it helps in our mission to bring out these tough issues for public review and debate.
Janet from New Smyrna Beach, Florida asks: "Seeing captive large cats always bothers me. They seem to just always lay around not doing anything, and I feel bad for them. They just sleep and eat and that's it. How do you feel about seeing panthers like that? Shouldn't they be in the wild?"
Bill: Janet, I'm quite sure your letter will strike a nerve with many of our readers! Emotions can be strong on this subject, as I will attest to from my travels around the State! I'll give your question a try! LOL
It has been my experience that most private owners of large cats, including cougars (true Florida panthers are protected by law and there are few, if any, in private ownership at this time), love them and take good care of them. Captive cats do sleep a lot, because, well, actually that is what cats do a lot! No problem with that, and with new ownership laws in place, the feeding and care of captive animals is pretty closely regulated by State wildlife authorities. And generally speaking, the owners of cats that we exhibit at schools and County Fairs, and places like that, are happy to let people see their animals because the truth is that chances of seeing one in the wild are very slim. All of this benefits the big picture of wildlife and habitat protection efforts both locally and, with exotic big cats like tigers and leopards, worldwide. When people see these animals, they tend to want to help them if they can.
The larger issue of captivity in general is tougher to answer because each person has their own opinion, and there probably isn't enough ink to print all the different opinions here! Whichever way you think, please continue to support habitat conservation groups like ours, and let's try to help in areas that we really can make an impact! Thanks, Janet!
Elaine from Naples,Florida, asks: "There are less than 100 Florida panthers in the wild today. Is that more or less than 20 years ago?"
Bill: Great question, Elaine! Many people just like you wonder if all the efforts on behalf of the panther are working, and if their numbers are going up. We believe most biologists would agree the number of wild panthers is actually on the slight increase. Steps taken by Federal, State, and County governments, especially the construction of highway underpasses that allow wildlife to safely pass under heavily traveled roads like I-75 in south Florida, have made a difference. Recent radio-collar information suggests some panthers are dispersing northward from south Florida, and possibly attempting to establish new home territories in areas that haven't had panthers since before the 1950's or 60's. Part of the reason they are doing so is the increased numbers of panthers in areas they are leaving behind. This leads to another question for authorities to figure out, and that is just how many panthers can Florida support? That is one question no one can answer at this point, only time will tell. Many people, just like yourself, are watching the situation very closely. Thanks for your support!
Jeffrey from Morgantown, West Virginia, asks: "We have sightings of cougars in the mountains of the eastern United States fairly often. Are these the same animals you call panthers in Florida?"
Bill: Thanks for asking, Jeffrey! The short answer to your question is yes, they are. Cougar, mountain lion, puma, catamount, red tiger, panther...all these are names for the same animal. Until very recently, biologists believed there were up to 28 various sub-species of felis concolourin North America, central America, and South America. The panther in Florida was titledfelis concolour coryi, (named after the scientist that discovered several traits that were seen in Florida animals only, such as the crooked tail.) These are 99% the same animals. However, for a bit longer answer, recent published scientific studies by Melanie Culver, from the University of Arizona, now suggest there are only 6 sub-species, and they are all more closely linked genetically than previously believed. This is very interesting and important information for the recovery of the panther in Florida, and your cougars in the Appalachians. For more information on the issue of Eastern cougars, contact Mr. Todd Lester at the Eastern Cougar Foundation "firstname.lastname@example.org".
UPDATE! The latest review by the International Union for Conservation of Nature declares that there are only two distinct puma groups. North American and South American. All our cats north of central America are one and the same.
Danny, aged 9, from Jacksonville, Florida asks: "Can you tell me about black panthers? Where do they live?"
Bill:Thanks, Danny! Do you know this is one of the questions I get asked almost every place I go? It's a great question! The answer starts many, many years ago when Florida was first settled by the Spanish, and other "Old World" Europeans. The world they left behind, southern Europe, Asia, and even Africa, had large cats, called leopards, that were often called panthers. Leopards are one of only two larger cats that sometimes are born with an all black coat. (Psst! Do you know the other one? I'll tell you later on, okay?) Anyway, "black panthers" are actually "black leopards". The animal we call panther in Florida does not come in black. It's a little confusing, I know, especially when people report seeing black cats in Florida fairly often. (I'll answer that question later on, too.) Now, Danny, what other cat comes in all black once in a while? You're right, it's the jaguar, and just like the leopard, if you look closely you can still see the spots, or rosettes, on the all black coat. Thanks again, Danny!
Fran, from Port Charlotte, Florida, formerly from Columbus, Ohio, asks: "I play golf every Thursday morning early, and I would swear I see a large animal, looks like black, looks like a cat, slink into the bushes off the 13th fairway almost every week. My friends have seen it, too, at other places on the course. Could it be a panther?"
Bill:Yes, Fran, itcouldbe a panther. But itprobablyis not. We get sightings similar to yours all the time, and we treat them seriously and respect every caller. When possible, we will actually drive to the location of the sighting, and attempt to talk to other witnesses, examine photographs, look for tracks, scat, or other physical evidence to confirm or deny such sightings. It has been our experience over the past 10-15 years that most of these sightings were not panthers, but other animals, including, but not limited to, bobcats and domestic cats (80-90%), then deer, dogs, coyotes, otters, foxes, wild turkeys (no pun intended), and hogs, totaling another 5-8%, still leaving about 5% of all sightings as unknown, and yes, possibly a panther. Two important things to remember. One is that even veteran, experienced outdoorsmen and women can misjudge distance and misidentify animals in the wild depending on light conditions and the color of the animal, especially animals that are dark (black), or very light (white or tan). Animals that are moving, or jumping, or quickly glimpsed before they disappear into the woods are very easy to misidentify. There is no shame in that whatsoever. Secondly, however, it must be conceded that no person, repeat, no person, can categorically confirm or deny, in the absence of any physical evidence, what someone else did or did not see...especially in Florida. Only California approaches the number of exotic and/or non-native species that are being found in the wild by Game and Fish personnel in Florida, and when someone reports seeing an animal that normally should not be in an area, it may very well be an escaped or released animal from somewhere. So, Fran, I guess the answer is best left at "maybe". Please call us if you see it again!
Our number is 1-941-376-2357, and we'll be happy to take down the report from you, and investigate if possible.
Tommy, from Destin, Florida, asks: "What is going on with the plan to put panthers back into north Florida? Wasn't the State experimenting with something up there?"
Bill:You are absolutely correct, Tommy. Back in the mid-1990's, the State and Federal Panther Task Force determined that field tests had to be made to determine if wild panthers could survive in areas of north Florida identified as suitable habitat. Over a period of the next several years, there were nearly 30 cougars brought in, (not at the same time), mainly from Texas, and released into the wild in an area roughly a 50-mile radius from Osceola National Forest. They were closely monitored by officials with the Task Force, to determine if the available habitat could sustain them. The experiment saw several cats killed by various ways, and there were several cats removed for getting too friendly with local goat ranches, and other livestock concerns, but in a scientific view, the generally held belief is that the region can sustain a population of free-ranging panthers again. All of the experimental cougars have been removed. The cultural concerns of the people that live in this area, however, are far from satisfied. Most of the residents of the affected counties, including Baker, Columbia, Union, Madison, Hamilton, and Suwannee, and even Nassau and Duval counties to the east, and Charlton, Echols, and Clinch counties in south Georgia, do not have any negative opinions about the panther itself. Many have expressed their desire to perhaps one day see a panther in the wild again. Even hunt clubs and sportsman groups, often accused of the opposite, have said they would be happy to help monitor the cats. The problem is that because the panther is so closely watched, regulated, monitored, studied, and managed by the "Government", and issues of Endangered Species Act protections and regulations regarding land use are still being debated, many landowners are very leery of anything having to do with the actual panther re-introduction proposals. Efforts are under way to resolve these concerns, and many groups, like ours, are trying to help. It is very unlikely any re-introduction plan will proceed until these very serious, and very legitimate, concerns are resolved.
That was a long answer, Tommy, but I hope it helps! As you may guess, the situation with the Florida panther is very complicated!
We'll answer more questions next month, so be sure and voice your questions, comments, or concerns to us and maybe yours will appear in this space! PleaseContact Us. Thanks