The Perfect Storm??

    Several years ago,  actor  George Clooney played a fishing boat Captain that was kllled at sea when a freak weather situation happened when three separate storm cells combined to produce "the perfect storm",  and created unsurvivable seas in the north Atlantic.

       Last month (June 2015),   panther advocates and friends of the panther,  were alarmed,   to say the least,  about three separate,  but simultaneous, announcements by wildlife officials  at the State and Federal levels.   The perfect storm analogy came to my mind.

       1.  The United States Fish & Wildlife Service announced that it was re-listing the so-called eastern cougar  from "endangered"  to "extinct',  because of a lack of verifiable cougar evidence,  from Maine to Georgia.  The population of cougars east of the Mississippi has been reduced,  according these official reports,  to the remaining panther (as they are known in Florida),  population in Florida,  mostly south Florida.

         2.   At about the same time,  officials in Florida formally declared the panther in Florida to have mounted a dramatic comeback,  with population figures perhaps 5 or 6 times higher than as recently as 1985.  Extensive recovery efforts have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic followers.   The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission  announced at their June meeting in Sarasota  that efforts were being shifted to the "what do we do now?" phase.   Special attention was paid to the increasing number of domestic show animals and livestock that have been killed by panthers in Florida.

         3.    At the same June conference,  the FFWCC also announced that dramatic increases in the black bear population since a ban on legal hunting took place in 1995 has resulted in numerous conflicts between bears and people,  and have authorized a limited hunting season to resume in the 2015 General Hunting Laws.

        Taken by themselves,  these 3 items may appear unrelated,  and not important to a casual observer.  However,  the three together may  bode something more suspicious to some panther followers,  and there was mild panic by many in attendance in Sarasota.

               My belief is that the fears expressed by some as a  "turning away" from the panther recovery,  or reduced level of importance paid to the panther by State officials .... is unfounded.  I do not think we will see reduced efforts,  or, as some have feared aloud,   some sort of hunting season on panthers in Florida.  It just is not going to happen,  in my opinion,  and we need to keep focus on how we can keep humans,  and panthers,  safe from one another as the population of both increase.  It is an issue of great public importance,  in my opinion,  and will test the ability of all concerned to come up with workable solutions as we go forward from here.

                                                                                                    ~  Bill Samuels,  August 2015

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Florida Panther Project
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                                         2016 is record setting year for Florida

It is with much sadness that we report at the close of 2016,  Florida has established record high numbers of panthers killed on their roads and highways,  nearly 40 total. Several comments are in order:

   1.  More panthers have been killed,  means there are more panthers. Rebounding from a low of perhaps only 30-50 animals left in the wild in 1988,  the panther population, thanks in very large part to the successful breeding program begun in the mid-90s has bounced back completely.  In fact, one of the most controversial points being argued down here right now is just how many we have running around wild in basically the lower 1/3rd of the state. The most popular figures quoted suggest 180-230.  Some groups argue only about 120,  while cattlemen, and farmer reports suggest much higher,  perhaps several hundred to even 4-500 wild panthers.  The record high number killed on the roads,  plus the number killed by territorial cat fights, (called IntraSpecific Aggression), would point to a higher number, rather than lower. So the population seems to have safely rebounded, whatever the exact figure is.

    2.  With those deaths were several notable fatalities. One, although not confirmed as a road kill,  was a 16-year old female that had been successfully breeding, hunting, surviving in the wild since 1999 with a radio-tracking collar on. Clearly the arguments about collars hindering survival have been dealt a blow by this very long living animal. The second death was in December,  when a very well-known,  very well-respected male nicknamed "the Old Man" was struck by a car and killed.  Those that regularly saw him,  the ranchers, farmers, hunters, fishermen, etc. and knew his favorite haunts were very much saddened to hear about it.  He was  a prime male for his area.

    3.  Much,  much venom has been directed at Florida drivers by those in other parts of the country on a wide-variety of FB Pages,  and Websites,  blaming drivers for these high numbers. While there are certainly some bad drivers everywhere you may travel,  the truth is panthers are ambush style predators,  and much like many other cats,  they depend on impulsive, quick bursts of speed to hunt their prey.... and unfortunately,  to cross highways. Many of these car drivers are quite upset and distraught that they have hit a panther because they just darted right out and could not be avoided.  Florida still has reduced Speed Limits for night driving in many areas of south Florida,  miles and miles of fencing and more coming,  and they currently have more underpasses than any other state. We are doing all we reasonably can do to reduce these numbers.  

      In conclusion,  let's hope 2017 is a better year for Florida panthers on our roadways.  With approximately 350,000 new residents coming to Florida each year....our work is going to be a very tall order!

                             ~  Respectfully,  Bill Samuels,  for the Florida Panther Project