One of the latest came at the end of December, on I-75 in western Broward county. It was a 110-pound male, crossing the highway around 1 a.m. Last year, 17 Florida panthers were killed by vehicles, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That's nearly 20 percent of the estimated total population.
As a result, Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization dedicated to protecting wild animals, has some suggestions for local law makers. "The toll that vehicle collisions are taking on the panther's population is a serious obstacle to their recovery, and the roads and vehicles themselves are inhibiting the panther's efforts to expand its range," Laurie Macdonald, Florida director for Defenders of Wildlife," told The Juice.
According to FWC, collisions with vehicles is the second-leading cause of death for endangered panthers behind only fights with other panthers. The commission believes there are more deaths because there are more panthers. The 100 estimated panthers roaming the Everglades is up from what was once estimated to be a population of 20 to 30.
"Panther deaths, including those from vehicle strikes, have increased, in part because of a rise in its numbers," that group said in a written statement. "In spite of the modest increase in numbers, every cat remains important to the survival of the species in the wild."
Defenders of Wildlife thinks the state and county governments could do much more.
"Unless we take actions to avoid such tragic losses to Florida's native wildlife," Macdonald said, "records such as these will continue to be reached each year as more and more roads and developments are built."
The new suggestions include:
- The creation of a regional transportation plan that protects panthers, other wildlife and motorists in southwest Florida counties
- The protection of habitat and corridors on public and private lands that provide a network of panther range
- The protection of panthers along more highway segments by incorporating wildlife crossings, fencing and additional speed zones in appropriate locations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, southwest Florida transportation departments and area developers
- Using both conventional and innovative technologies that result in safe driving practices and safe passage for people, panthers and other wildlife
- Accelerating the building of wildlife crossings by FDOT and county road commissions in identified areas of critical need
- Consultations between FDOT and panther biologists to determine shortcomings at particular crossings and appropriate fixes tailored to the problem areas
- Avoiding building new roads that harm the state's natural resource areas and wildlife habitat
- Having Governor Crist and the Florida legislature provide funding to the Florida Forever land acquisition program, which will help secure the necessary habitat for panthers and other wildlife and allow them to roam freely and safely