The Florida Panther is one of 30 cougar subspecies. It is smaller than western cougars and has longer legs, smaller feet and a darker coat. They are tawny brown on the back and pale gray underneath. They have white flecks on the head, neck and shoulders. Males may weigh up to 130 pounds and females weigh up to 70. They feed primarily on white tailed deer. They also occasionally eat wild hog, raccoon, birds, rabbit and armadillo.
The pantherís range was originally from from western Texas and throughout the southeastern states. It is now only found in Florida. They are solitary animals that usually only travel at night. This makes them difficult to spot and they are rarely observed in the wild. Males have large home ranges that overlap the females. Males will not tolerate the presence of other males, but females will often share their home ranges with other females. The home range of the male is around 520 square KM, while the femaleís home range is only about 195 square km.
They reach sexual maturity at about 3 years. Females give birth to litters of 2-6 kittens. The kittens stay with the mother for about 2 years. Females do not mate again until the kittens have left.
Young females usually stay about 13 km from where they were born, often sharing the motherís territory. Males disperse at greater distances. Dispersal of young panthers as been greatly reduced in South Florida by human development. Dispersal reduces the likelihood of a male breeding with a close relative.
Panthers can live up to 12 years in the wild. Females have a better chance than males, often living 10 years or more. It is more difficult for young males, but if they survive 5-6 years, they are likely to live to be 10 or older.
The Florida Panther is one of the most rare and endangered mammals in the world. There are only about 50-60 Florida Panthers left in the wild. The biggest threat they face is loss of habitat. Other threats include automobiles, shooting, disease, and insufficient numbers of large prey. Institutional constraints and negative public perception also threaten future survival.
Conservation efforts include underpasses to enable Panthers to safely cross highways, reduced speeding zones, public education, captive breeding programs and research.
You can aid conservation of the Florida Panther in a number of ways. Write to Florida Legislators and express your support for habitat conservation, reintroduction and recovery. Attend public meetings on panther issues if possible. You can also help by spreading awareness. the more people that speak up for the panthers, the better itís chances are of recovery and survival.