Florida Panther Killed On I-95
Endangered cat isn't usually seen in northern Florida
Staff Writer
St. Augustine Record
June 7, 2005

Looking for love in all the wrong places, a 6-foot-long, 120-pound male Florida panther was killed on Interstate 95 in St. Johns County June 3rd or 4th, 2005.

Mark Cunningham, a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Monday that he had performed a necropsy on the animal and said it was probably hit by a vehicle and killed instantly.
"Otherwise, he was healthy and in good condition, probably about 3 years old," Cunningham said. "He had a lot of good fat reserves."
Male Florida panthers range widely, seeking females. That can mean crossing busy highways and risking death, Cunningham said.

"They can go anywhere. There was one killed in Tampa on Interstate 4 two years ago. Another one with a radio collar on crossed I-4 once," he said. "If they're not finding females, they keep searching and searching."
Wildlife officials said the panther population in South Florida rarely strays north of the Calusahatchee River in Southwest Florida.
Joy Hill of the Conservation Commission said experts have said the dead animal was indeed a Florida panther.
"It does not look like a pet cougar that escaped," she said. "This is the farthest the Florida panther has ranged since the restoration project."
She was referring to a project started in the mid 1990s in South Florida to re-introduce the nearly extinct Florida Panther back into the state's wilderness areas. It worked, to a point -- from a population of about 30 panthers, there are now 87 big cats, not including kittens.
The carcass was spotted Saturday morning, just north of the Flagler County line on I-95 by Mayor Frank Charles of St. Augustine Beach.
Charles said he was driving to his business in Palm Coast and spotted the cat in the left-hand lane. He got on his cell phone and called authorities.
"Cars were swerving," Charles said Monday. "The paw was close to the line in the road."
Ironically, a walkover for wildlife is just 100 yards south of where the animal was hit, he said.
Sarah Owen of St. Augustine Beach, planning advocate for the Florida Wildlife Federation, said there had always been anecdotal stories about Florida panthers ranging in St. Johns County.
"If this one was not tagged, there's a panther population out there and we need to start planning for their habitat conservation," Owen said. "You can never exclude that (idea). Now we have an actual body."
She said this death could have statewide significance as people reconsider the panther's numbers.

"In recent years their numbers have been increasing, and now we've just lost one," she said. "But we're not going to get too excited until we find out through DNA testing where it's from."
Cunningham said the same thing -- a DNA test is required because there was an experiment in North Florida three years ago that involved releasing sterilized Texas cougars to find out if a second population of Florida panthers could survive there. Some of the vasectomies given to those cats were not effective and they began breeding, he said.
"I couldn't tell the difference at necropsy," he said. "This one did not have some of the characteristics of the pure, inbred Florida panthers. I still think it was a Florida panther, but I don't want to rule out that this could be connected to that project."
He said the DNA results won't be back for several months.
"This is a sad deal for this animal," he said. "He traveled a long way. He needed to turn around and head back to South Florida."
Panthers are rare, elusive, at risk From bigcatrescue.org
Nobody knows exactly how many panthers are left in Florida.
Maybe 80 to 100 panthers still roam the state's pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and swamps, making it one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the world.
Adult males may range over an area of 200 square miles, while females range over a 70- to 80-square-mile area.
They are very solitary animals. An adult maintains a home range to live, hunt and, if female, raises its young alone. A male panther's home range averages 275 square miles and overlaps with the smaller home ranges of females. Panthers maintain boundaries by marking with scents. They rarely fight over territory.
Panthers are most active at dusk and dawn and can travel 15 to 20 miles a day, often moving in a zig-zag pattern, though they tend to rest during the daytime, travel and hunt during the cooler hours of the night. They can swim and will cross wide bodies of water. They have a keen sense of smell and excellent depth perception but lack the panoramic view that deer have.
They can run up to 35 m.p.h. but only for a few hundred yards, their preferred method of hunting is to creep up as close to their prey as possible and launch a short spring attack. Panthers do become used to man- made noises and frequently cross roads. When humans approach an area they will either be still, disappear, or attempt to circle behind. Panthers can live 12 to 15 years in the wild. A male can measure 7 to 8 feet from the nose to tail tip and weight 100 to 160 pounds. Females are about 6 feet in length and weight 60 to 100 pounds.
Panthers are built to hunt live prey. Deer and wild hogs are their preferred food, but when these are not available, panthers will eat raccoons, armadillos and even alligators. While they are good sprinters, panthers rarely chase prey for long distances. Instead, prey is singled out, stalked and ambushed.
The biggest threats to the panthers that escape are being hit by cars, their health and continuing loss of habitat. Florida panthers have an unusually large number of health problems. Most are related to poor habitat conditions and genetic defects.

Most of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state organizations to bring about recovery of the Florida panther.
In 1989, data collected from 29 radio-collared panthers indicated that the population was losing genetic diversity at a rate of three to seven percent yearly. Researchers believed that the gene pool would continue to erode even if the population stabilized, leading to extinction within 40 years. Three years later, with the health of the population continuing to decline, biologists made a controversial decision. In an effort to increase genetic diversity, wildlife managers introduced several female Texas cougars -- the closest remaining cougar population that had historically shared Florida panther range -- into the Florida panther population in 1995. Several hybrid litters have since been produced, and the introduction seems to have corrected some of the problems experts generally attribute to inbreeding. Experts are still debating the role of the Texas cougars in panther recovery.
Despite the success of this effort, panthers are still at great risk of extinction.
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