What is believed to be a Florida panther was hit and killed by a vehicle Sunday night in east Orange County near Christmas. A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist retrieved the carcass shortly after it was struck; a necropsy will be performed at the FWC’s Research Lab in Gainesville to confirm that it is indeed a Florida panther.

The animal was struck by a double tractor trailer around 9 p.m. Sunday on State Road 520 close to where the highway intersects with S.R. 528. The truck driver stopped and pulled the carcass off the road to help avoid accidents, but not before other vehicles ran over it.

The carcass was badly damaged, and the biologist was not immediately able to determine the sex.

The major human-related cause of panther deaths is vehicles strikes. If this is confirmed to be a Florida panther, it will be the 25th to die this year in Florida, and the17th this year killed by a vehicle. In 2011, nine of 24 documented Florida panther deaths were attributed to vehicle collisions.

The panther population has grown five-fold since the 1980s, when its numbers dwindled to 20-30 in South Florida. Its increase to a current estimate of 100-160 adult and subadult panthers is a success story, but one tempered with the knowledge that an increasing population means a greater chance for vehicle collisions. Most panthers, and all known reproduction, occur in South Florida, but male panthers have been verified as far north as central Georgia. Verified sightings and, unfortunately, road kills in Central Florida have also increased in recent years but are by no means common.

People can assist the FWC by reporting sightings of an injured or dead panther: Call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Another option is texting Tip@MyFWC.com (standard usage fees may apply).

For more information on Florida panthers, go to www.floridapanthernet.org.

Logo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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