A driver hit and killed the 31st panther of 2016 on Tuesday, breaking the all-time record for the number of Florida panther road kills in one year. This breaks the 2015 record of 25 deaths due to vehicle strikes with more than three weeks left in 2016.
Florida panther deaths on our roadways are continuing in this upward trajectory. From 2011 to 2016, annual panther roadkills have increased by nearly 250 percent from nine panthers to over 30.
While the panther population has improved to an estimated 100-180 animals, the human population –and the development, traffic, and roadways that come with it- has also increased dramatically. Since 2010, Lee and Collier counties have added over 90,000 new inhabitants. Available land for panthers and other wildlife to roam, hunt, and survive has decreased as permits for construction grow.
“In addition to providing safe passage with landscape corridors and underpasses, we also need to preserve the core necessary habitats for panthers to establish their home ranges,” adds Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Senior Environmental Policy Specialist Amber Crooks. “Young panthers are disproportionally killed as they struggle to find their own resources and establish their own territory.”
Tuesday’s death brings the total number killed in 2016 to 39. In addition to vehicular collisions, the other major cause of death for the panther –territorial disputes- is also attributable to habitat loss. As panthers require large home ranges, habitat fragmentation may result in more individuals crossing roadways to find remaining patches of habitat. Habitat loss can also exacerbate these disputes, known as intraspecific aggression. There have been at least three known mortalities in 2016 due to these deadly cat fights.
Death due to intraspecific aggression and vehicle strikes are likely to increase in the future. Planning efforts for future development in panther habitat are underway. Up to 45,000 acres of new development and mining activities are currently proposed in eastern Collier County, a core area for the panther and other native wildlife. This development is projected to result in 300,000 residents to the currently rural area, and may necessitate nearly 100 miles of new and expanded roadways.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, along with other stakeholders, serves on a federal task force which is identifying solutions to improve deadly stretches of roads. The Conservancy also provides development alternatives that direct development away from essential panther habitat. As we consider the way in which we grow into our eastern lands, we must do so in a manner that protects primary panther habitat, incentivizes smart growth and not sprawl. This will in turn ensure a sustainable future for our growing population and our native wildlife which enriches our quality of life. To learn more, visit www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/florida-panther.