NAPLES — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) stated Monday that the program that tracks endangered Florida panthers with GPS-equipped collars is intact, despite cutbacks in state budgets.
“We are still tracking the panthers in Southwest Florida,” said Darrell Land of the FWC’s panther team. “And we’re using the GPS-equipped collars to give us information about individual panther movements.”
Land spent Monday morning flying all over Southwest Florida and was able to track 12 panthers. Since Land joined the FWC’s panther team in 1985, monitoring from the air has been a regular practice every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“We can tell if an animal has moved,” Land said. “And if they haven’t, we can get in there to determine if it’s been injured or giving birth to kittens.”
The FWC uses two methods of tracking panthers. The newer GPS equipment allows tracking of the panther when biologists can’t get up in the plane at night or during storms. The longevity of the GPS monitor is limited, so panther trackers also use the old-style VHF equipment. The older technology is dependable for three or more years, but its use requires a biologist to collect location information from airplanes.
Travel restrictions on state agencies in recent months have resulted in the FWC’s panther team cutting back on monitoring panthers within Everglades National Park, which requires overnight stays in hotels.
“We can monitor just fine within the area of our home office in Naples without incurring overnight travel costs,” Land said. “We felt this year it would be better to limit our monitoring program to more local areas.”
The range of the Florida panther has been reduced to Southwest Florida, where approximately 100 of the unique cats exist today. The panthers' numbers declined to approximately 30 cats by the early 1980s. Work by FWC biologists has been successful in bringing those numbers back up and restoring the genetic health and vigor of the panther population. Much of the funding for panther research and monitoring comes from fees collected when residents purchase panther specialty license plates.
“Research by biologists includes field studies on the panther to determine denning habits and movement patterns,” said Kipp Frohlich, leader of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section. “All of these studies aid in the long-term survival and recovery of the Florida panther.”
For more information on the Florida panther, go to MyFWC.com/panther/index.htm. To report dead or injured panthers call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.