In an increasingly rare sight, a Florida panther mom and two young kittens were spotted by a trail camera at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near Naples earlier this year.
Staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was the first time in three years that very young panther kittens were documented at the refuge. The camera is located at one of several wildlife crossings in the area to allow these endangered big cats to safely move on and off refuge lands.
Wildlife crossings and collaboration with local, state and federal partners are key to the future of Florida panther conservation, Fish and Wildlife said in a post on Facebook.
The endangered species remains extremely at risk of extinction, under pressure from habitat loss and population growth, which increases panthers’ chances of getting hit by cars on the state’s roads. Most Florida panthers found dead every year are killed in vehicle collisions, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. At least 20 died last year, compared with 27 in 2019 and 30 the year before.
Florida panthers are the only species of puma still roaming east of the Mississippi River. Their former range across the American Southeast has shrunk to small areas south of Lake Okeechobee. Scientists estimate that between 120 and 230 adults live in the wild.
Adding to the panthers’ woes is a mysterious neurological disorder that affects their ability to walk. Some animals were seen on video with trouble coordinating their back legs over the past two years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the condition, which scientists have called feline leukomyelopathy, or FLM.
If you want to help Florida panther conservation efforts, report sightings to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, go to http://ow.ly/br9D50DQG36