Thursday, April 19, 2007

Car kills Florida panther in Polk County

Amy L. Edwards - Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted April 19, 2007

For the second time in a month, a Florida panther was struck by a vehicle and killed Wednesday in Central Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.

The young male panther was found on the side of Walk-in-Water Road, two miles north of County Road 630, near a state wildlife-management area in southeastern Polk County.

While Florida panthers once thrived throughout much of the Southeast, fewer than 100 are thought to exist today, and most of those animals are in Southwest Florida.

"They're extremely endangered," said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Dani Moschella. "Most people in Southwest Florida have never laid eyes on them."

"It's such a magnificent creature," she added.

A passer-by who spotted the animal -- not the motorist who struck it -- phoned in a report. A state biologist estimated that the panther died about 7 a.m.

It is the seventh panther to be struck and killed by a vehicle in Florida this year, Moschella said.

On March 21, a Florida panther was killed on Interstate 4 in northwest Osceola County. This year's other deaths have occurred in Hendry, Lee and Collier counties.

While most of the panther population lives in South Florida, it is not uncommon for young males to roam throughout the state, experts say.

Panthers need an area "four times the size of [Walt Disney World's] Magic Kingdom" to roam, Moschella said.

This is the first documented panther death caused by a vehicle in Polk County. A sign warning of panther crossings can be seen on State Road 60, not far from where the animal's body was found.

In addition to the deaths caused by vehicles, three panthers have been found dead in Florida this year, Moschella said. Two were killed by other panthers. It is not known what killed the third.

Eleven panthers were killed in 2006 after being struck by vehicles.

About 30 Florida panthers wear radio collars so biologists can track their movements. The dead panther found Wednesday was not wearing a collar.

While 10 panthers have been killed this year in Florida, at least 20 panther kittens have been born, Moschella said.

Amy L. Edwards can be reached at aledwards@orlandosentinel.com or 863-422-3395.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/ orl-panther1907apr19,0,5675215.story? coll=orl-home-headlines

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