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How To Deal With Florida's Growing Panther Population

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Everglades Coalition wrapped up its 30th annual conference in Key Largo this past weekend. A panel discussion Saturday revealed that Florida’s endangered panthers are actually growing in numbers.

Credit Everglades Coalition / Courtesy
The "Coexistence or Conflict? Private Lands and Wildlife" panel met on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 1:30 p.m in Key Largo. Panelists included Florida Wildlife Commissioner "Alligator" Ron Bergeron, biologist Erin Myers and Florida panther specialist Jennifer Korn.

There are now between 100 and 180 panthers mainly south of the Caloosahatchee River that flows west past Fort Myers into the Gulf of Mexico. That number was updated this past April. Before that, it was between 100 and 160.

"So more panthers obviously means more potential conflict," says Jennifer Korn, Florida panther specialist and also a panelist for the discussion.

Korn refers to "conflict" like panthers hunting livestock from private landowners. There’s an easy solution to that -- pen up the livestock at night and make sure there’s a roof.

But there’s another clash between panthers and humans. Exactly 25 panthers were recorded killed on Florida roads in 2014. Korn says that’s the highest number of road kills they’ve ever seen.

"We're seeing a lot of these road kills happening that don't have overpasses or underpasses yet," she says. "So if we can create new wildlife crossings, that would be a big deal."

“Alligator” Ron Bergeron was a panelist beside Korn. He’s on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Bergeron also owns an 8,000-acre ranch in Hendry County where he encounters deer, turkeys, hogs, bears and an occasional panther. 

"We've had very few collisions with panthers on Alligator Alley because it was constructed properly with underpasses and fencing," says Bergeron. 

For now, the goal is to move the Florida panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River using underpasses and overpasses that link conservation lands together.

The panelists hope to see progress within the next 10 years.

Recovery to get Florida panthers down-listed from "endangered" to "threatened" would require two populations of 240 cats, according to the panel.