Florida Panthers


The Texas Cougar: Close cousin of Florida Panthers

There remain only about 80 to 100 Florida panthers, most of which are located in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. Highly endangered, this big cat is the official Florida state animal.

A large tawny-colored cat, the adult male weighs up to 130 pounds, while the female can reach 70 pounds. Panthers are solitary animals, active mostly by night.

On a backpacking trip to Big Cypress, we came across quite a few panther tracks in the muddy ground.

Florida panther tracks

There are rumors of panthers existing as far away from these areas as Volusia County. And, at least one knowledgeable biologist with whom I spoke said panthers probably do make their way up to North Florida, that is, if they can manage not to get run over on a busy highway. Too many of these magnificent creatures meet their end under a car's wheels. They are superb hunters and wily cats, but it seems they just don't have much traffic sense.

These big cats, a subspecies of mountain lions, are so elusive they are an uncommon sight even for researchers who track them. For this reason, your chances of a dangerous encounter with a Florida panther are extremely small. But, in the highly unlikely case you are attacked by a panther, wild animal experts say to fight back with all your might. Take special care to protect your neck and abdomen. Do not play dead. If the animal attacks you from behind, try to throw itover your shoulders.

If you’re not attacked but find yourself in what seems to be a dangerous encounter with a panther, try to make yourself look bigger and more threatening by holding out your arms and yelling in a loud and deep voice. If wearing a jacket, unzip it, and grasping the bottom of each side in each hand, hold out the jacket over your head to present a large surface area which the cat may find threatening. Or wave a stick, backpack, or other object. Face the cat head on and make direct eyecontact with it. Just be sure you don’t have the animal cornered. Allow it plenty of room to escape. Back away slowly, but do not run from the encounter. Running only tells a cat you’re something to be chased. Also, do not turn away from the animal and don’t hunker down. Both of these actions may entice the big cat to attack. Those familiar with the predatory behavior of house cats already have some insight into panther behavior.

The above information is a "just in case" plan. Don't worry too much about panther attacks. Consider yourself lucky if you even see one. I've roamed the backwoods of this state almost my whole life, and I may have seen one panther in the wilds.

Panther Update

Recently (October 2010), I had the opportunity to spend almost two weeks in the Fakahatchee Strand. A lot of that time was spent running up and down Janes Scenic Drive, and the rest was spent almost knee deep in swamp water surrounded by the most spectacular wild areas Florida has to offer.

One day I was in my Jeep headed back to the Ranger Station. Ahead of me in the road was a parked pick-up truck with its driver standing on the road to one side. Between the two of us was a Florida panther! That's right--about a 70-lb female just making her way down the road.

Florida panther on Jayne's Scenic Drive

The man ahead and I watched her for several minutes, then she just ambled off into the woods. Here one minute, gone the next.

As it turns out, the guy ahead was a panther biologist. I asked him if his presence had anything to do with the big cat we had just seen. He said no, and explained that he hardly ever sees them himself. It was all just an incredible event for each of us.

Seeing a Florida panther in the wild is, in my opinion, the primo outdoor Florida experience. If you're ever going to see one in Florida, it will probably be here in Fakahatchee.

They say life isn't measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away. This sight, for me, was totally breathtaking--another of life's great moments.

For more panther information, be sure to visit this page brought to you by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Convservation Commission.

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