December 15th, 2012 10:11 EST
Florida Panther Deaths On the Rise in 2012
Two Road Fatalities, Days Apart, Raise Toll to 26
The deaths of two endangered Florida panthers struck on roads this week brings the number of known deaths this year to 26, the highest on record. The deaths highlight the urgent need to protect habitat for the panther`s South Florida breeding population, as well as the importance of reintroducing panthers to the swampy border between Florida and Georgia to broaden the weakening gene pool of the population.
"Florida panthers are dying on roadways they have to cross in their day-to-day lives because they`re increasingly squeezed into smaller fragments of land between developments, " said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. These beautiful cats are under siege from out-of-control growth and threatened by inbreeding. "
In 2009 the Center filed a scientific petition seeking the designation of critical habitat for panthers in South Florida, followed by a second petition in 2011 calling for reintroduction to establish a second population in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected both petitions, even though the agency`s own recovery plan calls for protecting habitat and establishing three viable, self-sustainable populations of at least 240 panthers apiece within their historic range in the southern United States. Florida panthers are thought to number between 100 and 160 animals at present, in a single population.
The Florida panther desperately needs more habitat protection and a second population center in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, " said Robinson. More can be done to save these great cats, but it has to be now, before it`s too late. "
Florida panthers once ranged from Arkansas and Louisiana eastward across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and parts of South Carolina and Tennessee.
Although male panthers have traveled to other parts of Florida and even to Georgia in recent years, the breeding population is now confined to South Florida, where it ekes out a living on less than 5 percent of its original range.
The 2008 Florida Panther Recovery Plan, written by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, calls for protection of remaining Florida panther habitat in South Florida. But existing measures have failed to keep pace with the development of thousands of acres in recent years.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.