LABELLE (CBSMiami/AP) – Another endangered Florida panther has died after being struck by a vehicle in southwest Florida.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say the 2- or 3-year-old male panther was found Saturday morning alongside a road east of LaBelle.
It’s the seventh panther death of the year. Officials say it’s the fifth panther death caused by a vehicle this year.
Vehicle strikes were blamed for most of the more than two dozen panther deaths reported last year.
The Florida panther once ranged across the southeastern United States, but it is now found primarily in southern Florida. The wildlife conservation commission estimates that between 100 and 160 adult panthers remain in the wild, south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee.
Much of their habitat has been lost to development. Scientists say panthers need lots of land where they can hunt deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, and rabbits.
Gov. Rick Scott had declared Saturday to be Florida Panther Day to raise awareness about the big cats’ plight and conservation efforts to help their survival.
Wildlife officials say the panther population has risen in the past two decades, largely as a result of focused conservation efforts.
Panther research, management and protection efforts are funded through the sale of Florida panther specialty license plates.
The wildlife conservation commission asks the public to report any sightings of panthers or their tracks to help document their range.