Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hiking in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

To my knowledge - no one has been eaten by a Florida Panther since pioneers settled into Florida. It's possible a Calusa or Tequesta was gnawed upon in the pre-colonial days when 3000 or so of the cats roamed throughout Florida but i've seen no report of even an attack in the last 250 years. So it doesn't seem all that silly to me that the entrance to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is marked with signs for hiking trails.
Panthers on the other hand have not been so lucky in the presence of humans. In the last 10 days, 3 of the final 100+ remaining cats roaming the farms and swamps in the pre-dawn hours suffered an Edison/Ford/Firestone fate while attempting to cross a road. Lights, metal, rubber - and the sleek, speedy cats were dead from a vehicle strike.

The National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1989 and is the occasional home to anywhere from 5-11 Panthers. It's located just Northwest of the I-75/SR 29 intersection where one of the aforementioned cats was hit and killed last week. Fences line both roads to help keep all wildlife off them but sometimes they get around them or go through them after a sleepy driver has created an opportunity by going through it first. It happens once a week.

There is a short 1/3 mile trail (blue) and a 1 1/3 mile unimproved trail (yellow) that visitors can explore on but much of the 26,500 acre refuge is off limits for the protection of the panthers and their habitat. Of all of the places I have explored in the Everglades I have yet to visit but after attending the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge Annual Meeting tonight I have put this high on my list of things to do. Plus I have a brand new camera.
Florida Panthers are a subspecies of the Mountain Lion (aka Puma, Catamount, Puma, Swamp Screamer) and have been restricted to the Big Cypress and National Park area of the Everglades. Human development continues to chip away at their habitat and although their numbers have increased from 32 in 1995 to 100+ today, more cats and more roads means more negative human/panther interactions. I won the photo below and a ceramic paw print cast at the meeting this evening. The photo was taken with an infrared camera and shows CFP #78 (Collared Florida Panther #78) and her kitten to the right. The collar is used for tracking and when mom stops roaming, biologists know she has denned up and it will soon be time to check in on her and hopefully tag her new born kittens with tracking devices.

Habitat loss is a persistent threat with new developments planned within prime endangered Panther habitat. Vehicle fatalities continue as young disperse and attempt to find new territories - often fatally. And negative public sentiment continues to jeopardize the species survival plan as new and old residents take exception to what they ignorantly consider to be a dangerous animal.

There is more at stake here than just the Panthers. As their habitat goes, so goes the habitat of the Black Bear, American Alligator, White-tailed Deer, Pileated Woodpecker, Woodstork, Roseate Spoonbill and many more. Stewardship is not compromise. Stewardship is protecting the natural ecosystem for their benefit and ours.

If you live here in Florida or elsewhere consider a donation to the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge and help protect a national treasure. If you do I'll give a guided tour when you come to visit.


  1. Pete,

    This is a beautiful, clear description of a sad and complicated situation. Thank you for painting the picture and then giving us ideas for how we can help.


  2. Like Ghandi always said - run people over - not animals. Or was that Lindsey Lohan?

  3. Question: What does my donation do? It doesn't look like they are being saved or protected. In true American spirit I worry no one will do anything until it is nearly too late and then we'll have Panther Aid and all the big stars will come out to support the panthers and then they'll be forgotton about again, just like Farm-Aid and that whole "We are the world" thing people do to make themselves feel better....
    I want to save to the panthers!!

  4. They do a great deal in promoting the plight of the Panther as well as supporting the Refuge itself. They do outreach education to community and school groups. They help support research projects and they are on the frontline for educating the general public.

    They've done a very good job of keeping the local community involved in protecting the cats but this is more than a local issue. This is really about protecting habitat and that's something that every community across the globe needs to be doing.

    People support rainforest protecting, Polar Bear protection, Panda protection and so on. You don't have to live in a place to support the protection of it.

    But those ae all good questions.

  5. Good luck, I think to visit it in two weeks.

  6. Just got interrupted in reading your blog by a "Lorrie bird" in my front yard! Your blog is very well done and something truly needs to be done to save the habitat here in Florida, before the developers get it all. Soon we will only be able to see animals in cages and there will no longer be any "Wildlife." Having spent time with you in the Everglades, I know that you truly live what you preach and that any program that you support is a worthwhile one.
    Brian Wyllie (Pilot searcher)

  7. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  8. Thanks and welcome! I hope you continue to enjoy it.

  9. Thank you, Pete, for your thoughts on the Refuge and our work to increase awareness and protection for Florida Panthers!

    So far this year we are up to 6 panther deaths: 5 due to roadkill and the 6th as a result of intraspecific agression (panthers killing other panthers, typically in fights over territory). As you know, both causes of death are strongly linked to loss of habitat due to humans encroaching into panther habitat.

    Keep up the good work: it's great to know there are others out there spreading the word!

    Lisa Ostberg
    President, Friends of the Florida Panther NWR