Better Fencing Key to Resolve Panther Problem

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Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are investigating recent incidents involving a Florida panther that has killed goats and other small livestock at a campground near Ochopee, in Collier County.

Responding to calls from owner Jack Shealy, FWC and National Park Service (NPS) staff visited Trail Lakes Campground on June 8 and discovered two goats and an emu that had been killed by a Florida panther. FWC and NPS staff inspected the facility and advised Shealy on ways to improve the fencing on his property to better protect his livestock against future attacks by panthers or other predators. And although the panther has not threatened humans, the FWC increased its law enforcement presence in the area to ensure the safety of area campers.

A week later, Shealy reported that he had lost several goats, emus, ducks and chickens and blamed the loss on the Florida panther.

FWC scientists have concluded that these animals were killed by a radio-collared, 8 ½-year-old male Florida panther that is using an area of the Big Cypress National Preserve adjacent to the campground. The cat, a pure-bred Florida panther, has visible scars, most likely from territorial battles, but is in good overall health.

“We have advised Mr. Shealy on better ways to secure his livestock both for their protection and to discourage the panther from staying in the area,” said Darrell Land, leader of the FWC’s Florida panther section. “Predators are opportunistic, and unsecured livestock is easy prey. Once the livestock is well-secured and the panther realizes he can’t get to the food source, he’ll move on in search of prey elsewhere.”

Land emphasized that the panther is not stalking humans.

“The panther did not come around during a recent weekend festival at the campground, which demonstrates its wariness of humans,” Land said.

Nevertheless, as a precaution, the FWC will continue its increased law enforcement presence in the area for the time being. Also, the FWC, NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with Shealy to help address the campground’s need for a better enclosure for his livestock.

“This problem was caused by humans and is easy to correct,” said Chuck Collins, regional director for the FWC’s South Region. “There is a simple solution: secure the livestock. This is particularly important at night, when panthers and other predators are most active. Panthers are a unique part of Florida’s natural heritage. People living in panther range have an important responsibility to help safeguard this majestic animal and ensure its long-term existence.”

The Florida panther is federally and state listed as an endangered species. Intensive conservation and management efforts have increased the population from an estimated low of 30-40 individuals in the 1980s to roughly 80-100 individuals today.