Three wild panthers were hit by cars on US 41 in Collier County over three consecutive days. One of the killed panthers was a female with two kittens. A search was conducted for the kittens, but they were not found. It is presumed they also died, which brings the total number of deaths to five. If you’re wondering why the deaths of five wild panthers is newsworthy, the answer is simple. There are only about 80 -100 of the cats left in the wild, and their habitat is fragmented. In other words, they are living on the brink of extinction. If the total population in the wild was exactly 100, then 5 percent was lost in three days. If that total was only 80 then 6.25 percent were lost. But their deaths could have been avoided, and most likely would have been, if not for some local politics.
The section of highway where they were killed does not have wildlife underpasses like similar ones in South Florida. There was a plan by the Department of Transportation to add the underpasses, including a two mile fence which would direct panthers to the safety passages. Such underpasses allow wild animals to walk under highways when they are moving between habitats so they don’t get hit. However, some hunters and fisherman said the fences would making accessing one of their favorite parks not as convenient, so the plan was scrapped.
It seems both sad and peculiar that hunters, who sometimes call themselves conservationists, would oppose a plan that would save wild panthers because it would make them drive a bit more to reach their hunting ground. Isn’t that a selfish, and short-sighted motive?
Deborah Jansen, a wildlife biologist with Wildlife Park Services in Big Cypress National Preserve said, “The only way we’re going to lessen these mortalities is to have more wildlife underpasses.”
So is it true that a contributing factor to the extinction of a species of very rare panthers could simply be local politics…because some hunters insist upon convenience in their trips to a national park to kill other animals?
Other deterrents, such as a roadside animal detection system which alerts drivers to the presence of large animals and signs indicating reduced speeds, have been scheduled for installation. Those items are not being installed where the panthers were struck and killed though, said a Defenders of Wildlife office in Florida.
If you want to contact Big Cypress National Preserve about the panthers and why the underpasses are not being built, here is their contact information. Contact information for the Department of Transportation, SouthWest district might also be useful.
Collier County is located in southwest Florida and includes cities such as Naples and Marco Island. It has a population of about 300,000 people, and not many panthers left.