EVERGLADES (CBS4) — The endangered Florida Panther remains under attack with 23 of the rare cats being killed in 2010, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The agency announced Monday that 16 of the animals had been fatally struck by cars. Last year 17 cats were killed by cars and a total of 25 were found dead in 2009.

Six of the panther deaths are due to other animals killing them, and one was found dead of unknown causes, they said.

Only about 100 to 150 panthers remain in a tiny area of Southwest Florida. They are found in swamplands such as Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

The species is so critically endangered that it is vulnerable to just about every major threat – from habitat loss to cars.

The tiny number of animals are all that remain of a once healthy number of cats that were found across the nation’s Southeast from Florida to Arkansas, according to the National Wildlife Federation Web site.

The Florida panther was one of the first species to be added to the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1973.

Panthers typically live only 12 years in the wild, and are susceptible not only to human-related dangers but also diseases that include feline leukemia, the site said.

Cars, by far, offer one of the largest threat to the cat’s survival, the FWC said, adding that the cats are not restricted to preserves and therefore drivers in South Florida need to use extreme caution during darkness.

“Motorists should be aware that panthers are not always struck in posted panther speed zones,” said Darrell Land, FWC biologist and panther team leader. “We caution motorists to be on the lookout for the large cats in wild areas near panther zones, especially around sundown and sunrise.”

Panther speed zones are well-marked, with speed limits reduced at night to 45 mph. Motorists should be aware that violators often receive fines exceeding $200 for their first offense, and any violation of more than 29 mph over the posted limit will result in a mandatory court appearance.

Florida panthers typically are six to seven feet long and are a tawny brown. Males are larger than females, and mothers typically give birth to up to three kittens three months following breeding season, which lasts from November through March, according to the NWF.

That means the cats may be moving around right now more while searching out mates, they said. Males can stake out territories that range up to 250 square miles.

While only a tiny number of panthers remain, their population is steadily increasing, according to Land, which he attributes to the number of animals killed.

The FWC recently completed a “Statement on Estimating Panther Population Size,” which notes there are likely between 100 and 160 adult panthers in South Florida.

“This number comes from combining several science-based methods to provide a lower and upper bound of the population,” said Kipp Frohlich, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Section leader. “This should be thought of as a theoretical range that provides some insight into the possible magnitude of the total population size. We are continually seeking improved methods for determining the most accurate estimates.”

Only 29 kittens were produced by radio-tagged females in 2010. The total number of kittens born for the entire population is unknown, and not all of those kittens will reach maturity, according to the FWC.

To report dead or injured panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).


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