The number of panthers in Florida is only about 180, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. However, 17 of these animals have died from being struck by a car in the past seven months, which means that vehicular accident is responsible for the death of nearly 10 percent of the animals' population.

In 2014, drivers in Florida killed an unprecedented 24 panthers in collisions with automobiles, now considered the top cause of panther mortality. It accounts for about two-thirds of all panther death annually and these numbers are rising.

The Conservation Commission, however, does not seem to care much about the number of the panthers as it currently considers a proposal to cut back on the protection provided to the animals. It suggested for the reconsideration of the animal's endangered status.

Liesa Priddy, who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012, was actively involved in the rewriting of the panther policy, which aims to make changes on how the state should manage the cats. Priddy owns JB Ranch, which has lost 10 calves estimated to cost $1,000 each, to panthers in just two years, but she insists that her involvement on the policy rewrite did not show a conflict of interest.

The proposal claims that the population of the panthers exceeded carrying capacity, which means there are far too many panthers to be supported naturally in the area.

"A number of indicators (mortality causes, home range sizes, depredation records, abundance of prey species, human encounters, reports from landowners, photographic evidence, etc.) suggest that Florida panther populations have most likely exceeded carrying capacity for their occupied range in southwest Florida," the proposal reads. "At this level, panther populations are straining and currently exceed the tolerance of landowners, residents and recreationists in the region."

The opinion of scientists on this claim is, however, different.

"There is no science supporting the statement about 'exceeding carrying capacity,'" said Darrell Land, a panther biologist who has been studying the endangered cats for three decades now.

Since 1967, panthers have been classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The federal government requires the establishment of at least two more panther populations outside of South Florida, with each of the animals' population having 240 adults before panthers can be taken off the endangered list.

Photo: Monica R. | Flickr 

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