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Beautiful, Gracious & Endangered – Florida's State Animal

Updated: Sep 15



The most endangered of all Florida's symbols is its state animal, the Florida Panther (Felis concolor coryi) which was chosen in 1982 by a vote of students throughout the state.


The Florida Panther is a large, long-tailed, pale brown cat that grows to six feet or longer. Males can weigh up to 161 lb and its habitat is usually the same as that of the white-tailed deer, which is the mainstay of its diet.



Much folklore surrounds these seldom-seen cats, sometimes called "catamounts" or "painters," and they have been persecuted out of fear and misunderstanding of the role these large predators play in the natural ecosystem. Human population growth has been the primary threat to the panther's range and continues to diminish the quality of existing habitats.

The Panther has been protected from legal hunting in Florida since 1958.



It has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967 and on the state's endangered list since 1973. The future of this large animal depends entirely on the management decisions that are made today on its behalf.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for management and preservation of this endangered State Animal, but only with your support will the Florida Panther remain a part of our unique wildlife community.


Where do they live?


The Florida panther can live within a range that includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest, rural communities of Collier County, Florida, Hendry County, Florida, Lee County, Florida, Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Monroe County, Florida.



This population, the only unequivocal cougar representative in the eastern United States, currently occupies 5% of its historic range.


In the 1970s, an estimated 20 Florida panthers remained in the wild, but their numbers had increased to an estimated 230 by 2017. In 1982, the Florida panther was chosen as the Florida state animal.


It was described as a distinct puma subspecies (Puma concolor coryi) in the late 19th century.


What do they eat?


The Florida panther is a large carnivore whose diet consists both of small animals, such as hares, mice, and waterfowl, and larger prey such as storks, white-tailed deer, feral pigs, and American alligators. The Florida panther is an opportunistic hunter and has been known to prey on livestock and domesticated animals, including cattle, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, and cats.[15] When hunting, panthers shift their hunting environment based on where the prey base is. Female panthers frequently shift both their home range and movement behavior due to their reproductive rates.


Threats


The Florida panther has a natural predator, the American alligator. Humans also threaten it through poaching and wildlife control measures. Besides predation, the biggest threat to their survival is human encroachment.


Historical persecution reduced this wide-ranging, large carnivore to a small area of south Florida. This created a tiny, isolated population that became inbred (revealed by kinked tails and heart and sperm problems).

The two highest causes of mortality for individual Florida panthers are automobile collisions and territorial aggression between panthers. When these incidents injure the panthers, federal and Florida wildlife officials take them to White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida, for recovery and rehabilitation until they are well enough to be reintroduced.



Additionally, White Oak raises orphaned kittens and has done so for 12 individuals. Most recently, an orphaned brother and sister were brought to the center at 5 months old in 2011 after their mother was found dead in Collier County, Florida. After being raised, the male and female were released in early 2013 to the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area and Collier County, respectively.


Habitat Conservation

The conservation of Florida panther habitats is especially important because they rely on the protection of the forest, specifically hardwood hammock, cypress swamp, pineland, and hardwood swamp, for their survival.


Conservations strategies for Florida panthers tend to focus on their preferred morning habitats. However, GPS tracking has determined that habitat selection for panthers varies by time of day for all observed individuals, regardless of size or gender. They move from wetlands during the daytime, to prairie grasslands at night. The implications of these findings suggest that conservation efforts be focused on the full range of habitats used by Florida panther populations. Female panthers with cubs build dens for their litters in an equally wide variety of habitats, favoring dense scrub, but also using grassland and marshland.



How you can help


You can help to save the Florida Panther by supporting any of the organizations listed below:


Special thanks to the Florida Department of State and Wikipedia for textual inserts. Images by David Shindle, Conservancy of Southwest Florida; Stephen B Calvert Clariosophic, Cary Bass.