By Jeremy Cox
Thursday, March 22, 2007
A second Florida panther has been struck and killed on Interstate 4 in Central Florida, a sign that a breeding boom is fueling the big cat’s return to the area.
The flattened male panther was found Thursday between mile markers 60 and 61 in Osceola County. Another panther was killed only yards away along the highway last year, state wildlife officials said today.
State scientists who track panther movements first captured the cat in 2004 in Okaloacoochee Slough in Hendry County and, a year later, put a radio-tracking device on it. The panther was tracked into Glades and Highlands counties before the collar stopped sending signals in November 2006.
The 4-year-old panther’s demise marked the sixth panther death of 2007 and the third from vehicle run-ins. Vehicles are the No. 1 known cause of death among panthers; of which 80-100 are believed to exist, making the species one of the most endangered on the planet. Most of those panthers live in the wilderness south of the Caloosahatchee River, but a few males, in search of territory, do live in Central Florida, experts say. Male panthers need up to 200 square miles of land and will kill other panthers to keep it.
A successful breeding program that involved the introduction of eight female Texas cougars in the mid-990s has led to a threefold increase in the panther population, experts say. The 2.5 million acres of available habitat in southern Florida is at panther-carrying capacity and is shrinking because of encroaching bulldozers.
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