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News Release

Florida panther deaths increase from collisions with vehicles

June 29, 2007
CONTACT: Beth Scott (850) 488-4676, (850) 251-3970 (cell)

The deaths of three Florida panthers from collisions with vehicles last week brings the total so far this year to 14, exceeding last year’s record total of 11 for one of the most endangered large mammals in the United States.

A small population in Florida represents the only known remaining members of this subspecies that once ranged throughout the Southeast. Panther numbers have increased from an estimated 20-30 panthers 20 years ago to an estimated 80-100 today.

Although Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) have used a variety of techniques to reduce panther deaths along highways, the most successful tools have been wildlife crossings and fencing.

Wildlife crossings along Alligator Alley in Collier County are dry-ground bridges that allow wildlife to pass safely beneath the highway. Twenty-four wildlife crossings and 12 other bridges modified for panther use were constructed within a 40-mile stretch of I-75 as well as a continuous-barrier fence directing animals to the crossings.

Seven other wildlife crossings have been installed in Collier and Lee counties. No panthers have been killed by vehicles in areas protected with wildlife crossings and continuous fencing. Panthers have been killed by vehicles where limited fencing was used.

FWC has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FDOT, Collier and Lee county transportation departments and developers to protect panthers along more highway segments by incorporating wildlife crossings, fencing and additional speed zones in appropriate locations:

  • Two wildlife crossings will be built on the two-lane road, which will be six-laned to serve Ave Maria University and associated communities.

  • Planning is under way to add new lanes to the two-lane SR 29. More wildlife crossings will be incorporated into the highway design.

  • FWC supported a proposal initiated by Defenders of Wildlife for a wildlife crossing on US 41.

  • FWC consulted with Lee County Transportation Department about extending fencing associated with a wildlife crossing.

  • FWC is reviewing recent panther deaths within or in close proximity to the southernmost wildlife crossing on SR 29. Several panthers have been killed around this structure as a result of the limited fencing.

  • FWC is evaluating the need for more nighttime speed zones in Collier and Hendry counties.

Two wildlife crossings were recently completed on SR 29 in Collier County, costing approximately $4 million each.

There have been 139 documented panther deaths since 1997, 63 of which were previously live-captured and equipped with radio collars for ongoing research. Two major known causes of panther deaths are territorial battles among the cats and vehicle collisions.

FWC researchers are working with scientists at the University of Florida to create a panther population model that will help assess panther numbers over time and gauge the influence of panther losses by vehicle collisions on future population numbers.

 

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