The Florida panther is one of the most endangered animals on the planet. There may only be one hundred of the elusive cats left, and they are all crammed into a tiny bit of habitat in southwest Florida. Though they are federally protected from hunters and are having kittens year round, the species is still in serious trouble.
The biggest threat is habitat loss -- the panthers have no where to go. Young panthers looking to establish a territory get into fights with older males. In just the past few months, biologists have found three cats that were killed by other panthers. Another six were found dead along the roadside after being hit by cars. Then last month a wildfire tore through the wildlife preserve killing four panther kittens in a den and displacing countless other resident cats. With not enough land to support any more panthers, the population may never reach a sustainable level.
Last year, panther advocates petitioned the United States government to draft a panther recovery plan--part of the Endangered Species Act that requires the government to protect the land necessary for a species to recover. However, because the Florida panther was listed as endangered before the Act included this critical component, the government said they are not obligated to protect panther habitat. Only land necessary for "new" endangered species will be mapped and conserved. (Similar to the cell phone company that offers special perks for new customers only while you're stuck in a terrible two-year contract).
This year, panther advocates petitioned the government again. Rather than ask officials to designate and protect panther habitat, they found land already suitable for the big cats in parts of northern Florida and southern Georgia. The petition called for reintroducing panthers into these areas. Part of getting the panther population stable and off the Endangered Species List is having two other areas in their range, each with at least 240 panthers. The government just denied this petition as well.
Now, to add insult to injury, another 3,127 acres of panther habitat may be taken away. A developer in Hendry County has obtained preliminary approval to demolish a portion of the everglades to build a new power plant. Soon after this announcement, action alerts quickly flooded the internet and a petition has been started to try to stop the development.
Florida panthers are the only remaining population of the American lion east of the Mississippi, and a quickly fading symbol of our nation's wilderness. Biologists -- even those working directly for the government -- all agree that panthers need more land if they are going to survive long term. But with the government refusing to expand (or even maintain) the current amount of panther habitat, their actions are clearly saying they refuse to save the Florida panther.
Something to consider: If officials aren't willing to help panthers avoid extinction, how can anyone assume the lions in western states are being managed properly? Most states allow hundreds of lions to be killed by hunters every year, without knowing how many they have in the first place.