At least 26 Florida panthers died in 2012 – 40 recorded births
Nearly 70% of Florida panthers were killed by vehicles in 2012
A Florida panther moving her new cubs. Photo credit FWC.
December 2012. This year, 15 radio collared females have given birth to 40 kittens and the uncollared population has produced many unknown litters. In fact, remote trail cameras on the 26,000-acre Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge detected two uncollared family groups on the refuge.
These images of an uncollared female panther moving her three kittens to another den may be the first time anyone has captured a photo of a panther moving her kittens between den sites. It is possible that she moved them when her original dens site got too wet due to 1.03 inches of rainfall in the 24 hours before these photos were taken.
Two months later, on November 25, 2012, the cameras captured the same female with all three kittens following her closely. (Look closely in the bushes in front of the camera for the third kitten).
"These photos were taken about one mile from where the original photos of her relocating her den site and could be the kittens first time out of the new den," said Kevin Godsea, Project Leader at Florida Panther and Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuges.
The female with all three kittens following her closely. (Look closely in the bushes in front of the camera for the third kitten). Photo credit FWC.
Meanwhile, on the refuge's west side, the cameras captured a second family group with two kittens. They look to be about one month older than those in the first family group. Unique morphological characteristics (such as the female's cowlick in this photo) do allow us to uniquely identify the difference between the two family groups.
"The typical survival rate of Florida panther kittens is about 30 percent, so it is encouraging to see the number of panther births by radio collared panther and these two family groups captured by field cameras collective indicators that kitten survival potentially outpace and offsets the vehicular mortality rate." said Godsea. This is not to say that the number of vehicle collisions with panthers is not a concern, and it certainly warrants continued population monitoring as drivers are urged to be cautious when driving in panther country.
Vehicle collisions kill most panthers
The major human-related cause of panther deaths is vehicle strikes. Of 26 Florida panthers that are known to have died in 2012 in Florida, 17 were killed by a vehicle. In 2011, nine of 24 documented Florida panther deaths were attributed to vehicle collisions.
1980s - Just 20 panthers left
The panther population has grown five-fold since the 1980s, when its numbers dwindled to 20-30 in South Florida. Its increase to a current estimate of 100-160 adult and subadult panthers is a success story, but one tempered with the knowledge that an increasing population means a greater chance for vehicle collisions. Most panthers, and all known reproduction, occur in South Florida, but male panthers have been verified as far north as central Georgia. Verified sightings and, unfortunately, road kills in Central Florida have also increased in recent years but are by no means common.