Thirty-two endangered panther cubs were born in Florida in 2011, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the same year biologists documented the deaths of twenty-four there. So the total panther population, estimated at 100-160, appears to be stable.
However, already in 2012 four panther deaths have been documented. So stability is a relative perception, when the total population is small enough that four deaths in just about three weeks could represent four percent of the whole. Last year up to five were lost in just three days.
The good news is adult females are giving birth, but all the panthers remain susceptible to the same sources of mortality. In 1995 there were fewer than 30 wild panthers remaining in the state and they were experiencing the ill effects of inbreeding. A number of females from Texas were introduced, and they began repopulating the state gradually with greater genetic diversity in their offspring.
Two of the main causes of panther deaths are collisions with cars and fighting between themselves. Loss of habitat has caused the panthers to live in more confined spaces, but they are capable of walking many hundreds of miles. With less wild habitat available to stake out for themselves, they sometimes get in fights with each other resulting in deaths.
Also there are still a few hunters who will shoot them, and this past summer a Georgia man was convicted of doing so. He received a $2,000 fine and two years probation for killing the panther. Florida panthers are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
About six weeks ago, a male juvenile panther was released back into the wild after being found at five months old near its deceased mother. Biologists raised it at a wildlife facility to the point it was determined to be mature enough to live freely again.
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