FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 2007
Contact: Elizabeth Fleming, Defenders of Wildlife (727) 823-3888
Defenders of Wildlife Voices Concern for Disappearing Panther Habitat
St. Petersburg, FL- Three Florida panthers have been killed by motor vehicles in the last week, raising serious questions about the conservation of this iconic species in south Florida. Defenders of Wildlife attributes these accidents to overdevelopment of the endangered panther’s prime habitat, leading to more vehicle traffic and more panther fatalities as panthers look for new territory in ever-smaller patches of habitat.
The growing number of panther deaths caused by vehicles indicates how vulnerable the panthers are in rapidly developing south Florida. New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau rank Collier and Lee counties among the nation’s top ten fastest growing metro areas.
“Much of the panthers’ habitat has been degraded, fragmented or destroyed by development and road construction,” said Elizabeth Fleming, Florida representative with Defenders of Wildlife. “The panthers’ habitat is disappearing, forcing them to cross dangerous roadways in search of suitable options elsewhere.”
The panther is a protected endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, which prohibits anyone from killing a panther and prohibits federal agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any action that could jeopardize the continued existence of the panther. Panthers once roamed much of the southeastern United States, but development has restricted them to just five percent of their historic range, and scientists estimate that there are only about 100 panthers left in southern Florida.
Six panthers have been killed by vehicles since the beginning of 2007. Nearly 10 percent of the known panther population has been killed by vehicles in the last 12 months.
“Local, state and federal governments should step up efforts to protect the panther and its habitat, but they continue to permit developments that destroy thousands of acres of the panther’s home,” Fleming continued. “By failing to use its authority to avoid or adequately mitigate the damage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is setting a dangerous precedent that disregards panther recovery needs and could jeopardize survival of the panther as well as other imperiled native Florida wildlife.”
In February of 2007, Defenders of Wildlife filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers for failing to properly assess the impacts of development in panther habitat.
Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation’s most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.