When I first started following the plight of the Florida panther decades ago, there wasn’t much good news.
In the early 1970s, state biologists weren’t even sure whether there were any panthers left.
There were some in a relatively small section of southwest Florida, but they were in bad shape because of isolation and inbreeding that concentrated bad traits among the survivors. It was a far cry from the days when they roamed the entire southeastern United States.
Then, when state wildlife biologists began capturing panthers to learn more about their condition, at least one died, which didn’t reflect well on the effort.
But biologists brought in some distant relatives of the Florida cats from Texas to help bolster the gene pool. More habitat was acquired. Highway underpasses were constructed and more are planned — including some under Interstate 4 — to reduce road kills.
Now there’s a lot more good news than bad, said Jennifer Korn, a panther biologist who spoke at last week’s Ancient Islands Sierra Club meeting.
The population has increased from around 30 to perhaps as many as 200 animals. [Read more...]