The Florida panther was designated Florida's state land animal by the 1982 state legislature. It is easy to see why the Florida panther drew the admiration of the state's leaders. The panther is a beautiful, wild cat that inhabits the regions of the state that best exemplify the natural interior habitat that Florida is best known for. Most Florida panthers live in the Everglades, which is like a wide, shallow, tall grass-filled, river that flows through the width of south Florida. Some panthers also live just outside the Everglades in parts of Broward, Collier, Hendry, and Lee counties.
The Florida panther is an endangered species. The Florida panther is the last population of its species east of the Mississippi River. Now the Florida panther is protected by state and federal laws. Long ago, panthers used to be found in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Mississippi. Gradually, as habitat was lost, panthers disappeared from these areas.
In 1994, it was estimated that there were only 30 to 50 Florida panthers left. Besides loss of habitat, modern transportation has endangered the panther. Panthers often get onto the road, where trucks and cars can run over them.
Many Florida citizens and other people throughout the United States who are environmentally aware have begun ways to save it. They have learned much about the panther.
Names for Panthers
Florida panthers have many different names. Their scientific
name is felis concolor coryi. Other names for this animal are
cougar, mountain lion, tiger, puma, and catamount.
Florida panthers have a tawny, cinnamon, pale brown color. Their stomachs are white, and panthers' noses, tail tips, and places behind their ears are all dark brown or black. Panthers are long and slender, with short legs and ears. They also have small heads, but they carry them high. Panthers' paws have strong, thick pads. One of their distinctive characteristics is a crook at the tip of their tails. An average sized male panther would be about seven feet long, from its nose to its tail. Most male panthers weigh about 120 to 170 pounds, while most females weigh 80 to 120 pounds.
Strong jaws, long teeth, and body are important to the panther for hunting, as are its sharp, retractable claws. Panthers are nocturnal, but hunting at night isn't a big problem. These animals are excellent hunters. They hide in bushes, watching their prey. Suddenly, the panther tears its unfortunate catch into pieces. Panthers will eat almost anything, even each other! They will also eat raccoons, armadillos, rabbits, and even rodents and reptiles. Some of their favorites, however, are feral hogs, deer, and wild turkey. Even so, panthers have never been known to disturb a human.
There is no separate mating season for Florida panthers, However, most panthers mate and most kittens are born from March to July. When they mate, mother panthers need 8,000 to 20,000 calories a day, or they cannot have cubs. While panthers are mating, they usually spend two to ten days together. Female panthers are usually 1 ½ to 2 years old when they first give birth. There are usually two to four cubs born at a time. Panther cubs live with their mother for 1 ½ years. While the cubs are with their mother, they travel in the mother's home range. When the panthers grow up, their ranges are often similar to their mother's. Mothers will do anything to protect their cubs. But after the cubs grow up, they live on their own until they mate. The survival of the Florida panther depends on reproduction.
After cubs are grown, they adapt their own home ranges that extend up to hundreds of miles. Scientists have tracked the roaming of panthers by catching them and attaching radiotelemetry devices. These devices give off signals as the panthers travel naturally along their ranges. On average, adult males range two hundred square miles and adult females range seventy-five square miles. To put this is perspective, the millions of people in New York City live in only 309 square miles.
Panthers seek out native upland forests for their home ranges, especially hardwood hammocks. Sometimes panthers will also inhabit pine flatwoods,cypress swamps, and cabbage palm woodlands. These habitats provide ample prey, shade, and cover. Many scientists believe that the extinction of this beautiful creature will come from habitat loss. There have been many attempts to save the Florida panther. Hopefully, we will succeed someday.
Read a story I wrote about the panther
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Copyright ©1998 by Meredith
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