The Florida panther is the only known breeding population of
mountain lions in the United States east of the Mississippi
River. This tiny population survived early extermination by
people due to the highly impenetrable Florida Everglades.
Today, Florida panther numbers have rebounded, but their habitat continues to shrink; resulting in increased roadkill and less space for a smaller population.
Note: The Florida panther was originally considered a subspecies of Puma concolor. Due to increased knowledge of the species, as well as advances in genetic research, scientists no longer consider the Florida panther as a unique subspecies though it still maintains the name.
Many government agencies and NGOs assert that there are between 100 to 160 panthers residing in Florida. However, in 2008, a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission on the status of the Florida panther stated that the panther population was estimated to be approximately 100 animals and had remained at this level for several years. It was also implied that a large increase in population size was not expected or feasible because much of the available panther habitat in south Florida was currently occupied at capacity. The officially recognized capacity limits for the panther's designated habitat zones only allow for the accommodation of a maximum of 84 animals.
While the Florida panther once roamed throughout many of the southeastern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina), it was hunted to extinction everywhere except in the remote southwest corner of Florida where it was protected from humans by the impenetrable Everglades swamp.
Today, an area just short of 2,200 square miles is essential habitat for the Florida panther. This habitat has been broken down into three distinct categories: primary, secondary, and dispersal.
Within the Florida panther's remaining habitat, the species appear to prefer hardwood hammocks and pinelands. The saw palmetto plant is used extensively by panthers for resting, stalking prey, and as dens for young panthers.