For many years, The Light Magazine has promoted the conservation of our environment and of endangered species. In every issue we feature one of the endangered animals that is on the critical to concerned lists established and updated by various conservation organizations. In this article, we are featuring the Florida Panther, which is critically endangered. According to The Nature Conservancy, there are only 180 Florida Panthers left on earth. A few years ago, when visiting a Native American attraction, I had the rare privilege of seeing a panther, unfortunately, in captivity. They are magnificent creatures.
The Florida Panther is a subspecies of the species Puma Concolor. These cats are also called cougars, pumas and mountain lions, although the term “Florida Panther” is the most common name applied to the species. The large cats formerly inhabited the entirety of the southeastern United States but now only reside in our state.
Florida Panthers are comfortable living in a wide variety of habitats, including forests, swamps and prairies. They are solitary animals that survive by hunting animals such as deer. They also eat rabbits, raccoon, wild boar and other small animals. Their most active hunting hours are at dawn and dusk, when they also prey upon hare, mice, water fowl and even the occasional alligator. Most Florida Panthers are nocturnal and spend the days sleeping in trees or within dense patches of vegetation.
Florida Panthers are great leapers and can jump 15 feet high or 45 feet horizontally. These abilities are partially the result of the panther’s long rear legs, which proportionally are longer than the legs of any other large cat. Florida Panthers have tan coats and blue eyes. The tip of the ears and tail is black while the underpart is white. Florida Panthers do not roar. The sounds they produce are whistles, hisses, purrs and chirps. Adult panthers weigh between 64 and 100 pounds, but they can be as large as 100 to 159 pounds. The body length is between 6 feet to 7 feet.
Florida Panther females usually give birth in the late spring or early summer, but they may mate at any time of the year. Litters contain up to four kittens, but many succumb to disease or predators before reaching maturity. The young kittens are covered in small dark spots, which fade with age.
Female panthers build dens in the dense scrub where they give birth to the kittens. Kittens stay in the den between 45 and 60 days with their mother. The mother will feed the kittens for 14 to 21 days and then she begins to teach her cubs to hunt and search for food. By two months, the kittens are hunting with their mother. When the cubs reach two years of age, they become fully independent.
Males are slightly larger than females and reach adulthood earlier than the females.
Every Floridian should support The Nature Conservancy’s request to contact your Senators and your Representatives in the state to establish a habitat and conserve every piece of land we can conserve because it is critical to the panther’s survival.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is also critical to the Florida Panther’s survival, but Congress let LWCF run out on October 1, 2018. That means prime panther habitats like the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge & Conservation Area and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge will go unprotected. Let your Senators and Representatives know that this fund needs to be reinstated.