If things remain on pace, 2014 will be the year the most Florida Panthers were killed by a vehicle. In 2012, 19 panthers were found dead from being struck by a car, the most since the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission began keeping track of the numbers. But just last week, a 4-year-old female was killed by a vehicle, tying the 2012 record and setting up this year to be the record-breaker.
Most of the panthers were killed by vehicles in Collier County, according to the FWC. Half of those were females, and two were 4-month-old kittens.
Of the 25 panther deaths recorded this year, the majority have come from being struck by vehicles. And FWC records one to two panther deaths per month on average, which means 2014 will break the all-time record.
Other causes of death are due to illness and male panthers killing each other.
The 19th killed panther, which was between 3 and 4 years old, was reportedly struck by a vehicle last Thursday. The female's carcass has been take to FWC's lab in Gainesville for a necropsy.
Still, if there is any good news to be gleaned from this, it's that the FWC believes the multiple deaths show that the Florida panther population is getting healthier overall.
Marc Criffleld, an FWC spokesperson, told New Times that panthers are expanding out into areas where they come into more contact with people and cars.
"When the population grows to what it is today, they are then forced to expand out and live in areas that are a little less ideal," he said. "There are a lot of roads crisscrossing these areas."
Likewise, Mark Lotz, an FWC panther biologist, says the panther population is on the rebound.
"You have more panthers to hit," Lotz told Reuters this week. "The number of road kills really tracks very close to the population estimates."
In 2012, wildlife officials brought over pumas from Texas to breed with Florida panthers to help rejuvenate the overall population. The Texas pumas were brought in not only to help expand the population but to prevent inbreeding, which would eventually have led to full-on extinction.
Loss of habitat has helped contribute to the dwindling of the cats over the years. But the FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the population has risen in the past two decades, thanks mostly to conservation efforts by private landowners, state and federal land managers, and practical solutions such as panther crossing signs and underpasses built for the cats. The result has been an overall panther population uptick.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife estimates, there are 100 to 180 panthers remaining in Florida.
A higher number than in years past, but still relatively low for a species perpetually on the edge of endangerment.