Updated — 11:34 a.m., December 12, 2006
A Florida panther was killed when hit by a vehicle on County Line Road just off Immokalee Road this morning. It's the 11th panther, the most in a year, to die on the roads this year.
The panther was male, about 3-5 years old and weighed roughly 100 pounds, said Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Darrell Land. A Collier sheriff's deputy spotted the big cat's lifeless body lying in the middle of County Road 858, also known as County Line Road, which runs north and south along the Collier-Hendry county line.
"His insides were on the outsides, so we think that contributed to his death," Land said.
The collision happened in an area surrounded by forests and farms about five miles east of Immokalee. The area is in the middle of the species' shrinking habitat, which includes much of the interior of Southwest Florida.
Today's macabre mark is a reflection of the skyrocketing numbers of both people and panthers in Collier and Lee counties, experts say.
"It's just a tragic result of the increased development in the area," said Elizabeth Fleming of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. "The only place in the world where Florida panthers are found is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country."
Two weeks ago, another panther was killed in a vehicle collision, making it the 10th death and tying a mark for the deadliest year on record for the big cats.
A female Florida panther was struck and killed on U.S. 41 East between Manatee Road and Collier Boulevard, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Darrell Land in an e-mail.
The cat was not wearing a radio collar, nor did it have a transponder chip, so the panther's existence and location were unknown until its body was found. The panther was killed 1.5 miles east of Collier Boulevard within a few hundred yards of a middle school and an elementary school on a stretch of U.S. 41 that is slated to be widened from two to six lanes in coming years.
The roadkill record was set at 10 in 2003. Last year, nine panthers died after getting hit.
Scientists estimated between 70 and 100 Florida panthers are left, making the species one of the most endangered on the planet. Almost all of them live south of Lake Okeechobee.