Monday, May 14, 2007

Florida panther death points to where we are as a society

By Lexey Swall
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mark Lotz doesn’t get depressed when he gets a call about a Florida panther being hit by a car. In his 13 years as a panther biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, he has seen his share of road kill.

But he does think, "Oh boy, not another one."

"It’s sad, especially when it’s a female because they are what’s really important to the population," he says.

Lotz pulls one of those females, a 3-year-old Florida Panther killed by a car Wednesday in Miami-Dade county, from a freezer at the commission office in Naples. He places her into a cooler on the back of his truck so she can be transported to a veterinarian in Gainesville who will perform a necropsy.

The uncollared cat was the eighth panther to be killed by a car this year. In 2006, there were six road kills by May and 11 for the entire year.

"Eight deaths is roughly about average," says Lotz. "We may have multiple deaths in three months and then nothing for seven months."

According to Larry Richardson, a wildlife biologist for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, it could be a sign that the panther population is growing.

"Perhaps we have a growing population of panthers, but also have a growing population of people on the road," says Richardson who has worked as a biologist at the refuge since 1989.

"As the population rises, the probability of greater mortality also rises," he says.

So, is this an indication of a larger panther population? That is the $64,000 question, says Richardson.

"There are more kittens being born than there are panthers dying every year," says Lotz.

There are roughly 80-100 Florida panthers in existence. So far, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has recorded 26 kittens born this year: 13 males and 13 females.

One death isn’t going to cause the demise of the panther population," says Lotz referring to the panther that was killed on Wednesday. He says that loss of habitat is a greater concern.

"We need to save as much land as we can because habitat destruction is the biggest threat to their survival," he says.

Richardson agrees.

"The death of that panther points to where we are as a society. We are pushing this animal out and we have to decide if that’s OK," Richardson says.

To learn more about the Florida Panther you can visit: http://www.myfwc.com/panther/

Reach Lexey Swall at ljswall@naplesnews.com.

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2007/may/13/ our_world_another_one/?

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