Looking for Ways Panthers and Ranchers Can Coexist in Florida
The endangered Florida panther has made an amazing comeback. Once only 20 remained, but now the population is estimated at 100 to 160. However, finding a place for all those panthers to live without conflict is getting more difficult.
Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began receiving reports of the cats preying on calves, beyond their natural prey of deer, wild hogs and other native game. The University of Florida, with support from Defenders of Wildlife, is studying the situation in an effort to find solutions.
Caitlin Jacobs, a graduate student and researcher at the university, says radio tags on calves and motion-detecting cameras are being employed to help get answers.
“We have them placed around the study areas to try and capture pictures of panthers – for one, to show how much panther activity there is on these ranches.”
The two-year study is focusing on two ranches in southwest Florida where the goal is to determine the extent to which predators, in particular the Florida panther, are responsible for calf mortality.
The research, Jacobs says, should answer a number of questions about how the calves are dying and about how many panthers may have developed a taste for calves.
“Is there one cat that has learned that calves are easy prey?”
A Florida panther caught on one of the 15 trail cameras donated by Defenders to assist with the research on two ranches. Paw prints were found at the site the next day.
Liesa Priddy, owner of J-B Ranch in Immokalee and one of the ranchers participating in the study, says having good information is key to coming up with a plan to balance the panthers’ habitat needs with ranchers’ concerns.
“Only with that solid information, having everybody on board in agreement with what the problem is, are you going to be able to address it and come up with a solution.”
Twenty-four panthers died in 2011, which is tied as the most deadly year with 2003 and 2009.