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Protecting the Florida Panther: Festival Aims to Raise Awareness

Photo: There are 100 to 160 panthers left in Florida. Courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service Trail Camera Project
Photo: There are 100 to 160 panthers left in Florida. Courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service Trail Camera Project
November 14, 2013

NAPLES, Fla. - Florida panthers make headlines every time one of the animals is hit by a car - with a record 19 being struck by autos last year - but people hoping to protect the population want Floridians and visitors to think about how to prevent such accidents from happening in the first place.

There are an estimated 100 to 160 adult panthers left in Florida. Ben Nottingham, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, explained the historical significance of the big wild cats.

"They are the flagship wildlife species for the state of Florida, and they represent, at least for south Florida, what Florida used to look like," he said.

Nottingham said there is only one breeding population, and Interstate 75 and other thoroughfares cut through their habitat, making the creation of wildlife crossings important to the animals' safe travel.

This weekend people are invited to come learn about conservation efforts for the panther and even take field trips into panther habitats at the Florida Panther Festival in Naples.

Defenders of Wildlife is also working to help create ways for panthers and people to coexist. According to the organization's Florida program coordinator, Shannon Miller, people's fear of the panther also impedes the recovery efforts for the animal.

"It's very important that we protect a habitat for these animals and really help people understand what they need and why they're so special," she said.

Defenders also offers assistance for landowners to build predator-resistant enclosures to protect livestock and pets.

Miller said the annual Florida Panther Festival is a great way for Floridians to understand the state animal.

"It's a family-friendly event," she said. "There's children's activities. There's indoor-outdoor exhibits, live music, lots of food, and it's a fun event to come learn about the panther and why it's so important to protect it."

The festival will take place Saturday at North Collier Regional Park, with field trips offered on Sunday. More information can be found at

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL