Florida’s imperiled species need protected wildlife cooridor

A Florida panther trips a motion sensor camera set up by News-Press Photographer at Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in late March 2020. Environmentalists say losing wetlands also means losing wildlife habitat for such threatened and endangered species as the Florida panther.

Donning a hard hat and safety vest, I stepped onto the sand where bears and panthers might also leave their footprints in the future. A large wildlife crossing structure on Interstate-4, near Disney World, is under construction. The crossing represents just one of limited spots where wildlife have any hope of safe passage across this major roadway barrier.

With a current population of only 120-230, the current survival plan for the endangered Florida panther stipulates that securing additional habitat to grow the population — and the corridors to connect them to maintain genetic flow — is essential. A panther’s territory is fixed, as they roam to find mates and food; as an umbrella species, protecting panther habitat can also protect other wildlife that inhabit the same lands.

Amber Crooks

By the time an individual panther would reach I-4 (and there have been some roaming males, though most of the panther population is south of the Caloosahatchee River), it would need to be lucky enough to have successfully traversed past dozens of roadways and all-consuming development eliminating portions of their home ranges.

Southwest Florida, where the current breeding range for the Florida panther struggles to persist, is already a hotspot for roadkills. These vehicle-panther collisions are the top documented cause of mortality. Every year 20-30 panthers are hit and killed by vehicles.

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