How America’s Most Endangered Cat could help Save Florida

How can the Florida Panther save Florida? We’ll tell you and unlike National Geographic, we won’t charge you three dollars for the privilege! Let’s start by saying there are two kinds of Florida panther. There is a hockey team called the Florida Panthers (Yes, I’m surprised they have hockey in sunny Florida too.) and a big cat called the Florida panther. One is a viscous, mindless beast that tears through anything in its way while acting only on pure impulsive instinct. The other is on the endangered species list.

How to Recognize a Florida Panther

The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) is a lithe, mid sized cougar. It has a tan coat with a creamy white underbelly and black points on the ears and tail tip. They can’t roar but do make other vocalizations. Like all cats big and small, the Florida panther is an obligate carnivore. Its usual prey is rodents, hares and waterfowl, though it has been known to go after larger prey such as deer, feral pigs and even small alligators. An opportunistic hunter, the Florida panther will go after domesticated animals as prey. This, among other factors, is what may have led to the Florida panther’s endangered status.

Why Is The Florida Panther So Endangered?

At first, farmers killed them to protect their livestock. Then, as farms became fewer and cities became bigger, the Florida panther’s habitat was infringed on. Keep in mind, an adult male panther defends a territory of 200 square miles. More roads and highways criss-crossing the state of Florida increased the likelihood of a panther to get hit by a car. Reduced prey, panthers fighting over territory and disease have further decimated the population.

Why is it Important to Save the Florida Panther?

The Florida panther is an apex predator. This means they sit at the top of the food chain and once they reach adult size, nothing preys on them. (Other than humans of course.) An apex predator keeps the population of the other species in check. They tend to pick off the weak and sickly ones. Doing so aids in the overall improvement of the stock of the breeding population. It also greatly reduces disease and lessens the chance of genetic defects being passed on. If the Florida panther were to go extinct, the entire ecosystem could be at risk.

How Would the Ecosystem be at Risk?

Let’s explore the reason our little feline friends were domesticated. They made for great pest control. Rodents and lagomorphs are well known for being explosive breeders. No one wants mice and rats eating and fouling food meant for people. Bunny rabbits might look cute, until you catch one digging up your garden. (And they will always eat the most expensive plants.) An apex predator like the Florida panther will keep the population of such creatures managed. And let’s look at animals in the middle of the food chain. Florida panthers sometimes prey on raccoons which prey on shrimp which are an important natural resource in Florida. More Florida panthers means more shrimp for Floridians.

But Aren’t Florida Panthers Dangerous?

Do you want to know what’s really dangerous? A human being! Human beings with guns are particularly dangerous. In the state of Florida 379 murders were committed with a firearm in the first six months of 2019. It jumped up to 466 in 2020. In the entire known history of Florida, not even once has a Florida panther attacked a human. Black widow and brown recluse spiders, mosquitoes and box jellyfish are far more dangerous. That said, you don’t want to get on the Florida panther’s bad side. Try to stay out of Florida panther territory, particularly in the spring when mother panthers have kittens they want to protect. To quote a Newt from Alien, “They mostly come at night. Mostly.” If you do see one, or, rather, if it sees you, try to make yourself look big. Wave your arms around and scream. If you have a jacket or backpack, you can use that to make yourself look large and aggressive. Stand on a stump if you have to. If someone smaller than you is with you, put them on your shoulders. Running won’t work. It will only make the panther chase you. And it will catch you. If you make yourself look threatening, the panther may decide to back down.

What Can Be Done for the Florida Panther?

For one thing, keep an eye on your pets and livestock. Not only do you not want them to be eaten, but Florida panthers need to subsist on their natural diet and not come to depend on animals that were bred by man to be slow, stupid and trusting. Keep your trash locked away as well so they don’t get tempted to snack on it. When driving, keep to the speed limit (always a good idea anyway) especially on roads with animal crossing signs.

Another thing you can do is when it’s time to have your license plate renewed, consider purchasing a “Protect the Panther” tag for $25. Your license will be decorated with a portrait of a handsome Florida panther and your fee will go towards the Florida Panther Research and Management Trust Fund. This will support the organization in their research, rescue and conservation activities.

Conclusion

The Florida panther is the state mammal of Florida, even though there are only around 120 to 130 of them left in the wild. This shrinking gene pool is already leading to inbreeding that causes kinked tails. If something isn’t done soon, things could get a lot worse for these beautiful big cats. Helping the Florida panther actually helps Florida in the long run. Please do what you can to protect them for the next generation.

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