The roaming Florida Panther

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A Florida panther named Don Juan transferred to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Citrus county after living at Busch Gardens in Tampa for the last two years. Don Juan is eleven years old and weighs 130 pounds. He is the first Florida panther to call a state park home. Since he has all his claws, the exhibit had to be modified, with shields on trees so he would not climb on them. Don Juan has fathered about thirty cubs in the wild around the Big Cypress swamp near Naples. This is amazing since there are only about a hundred panthers in southwest Florida.

This is a big improvement since the early nineties, when there was only about twenty. So much inbreeding led to heart problems and sterility. To turn the tide, Florida wildlife management brought in eight Texas females. Today the roaming hundred are looking for room to grow, and clashing with humans. The Fort Myers area in Lee county has become the metropolis of Southwest Florida, with over a million residents. It’s sprawling airport, built in the eighties, took a big chunk of wild land.

As long as the panthers stay at Everglades National Park, they are safe, but squeezed by a lack of habitat and a growing population, they will continue to head north, into the path of humanity. During the nineties a few males crossed the Caloosahatchee river, one made it to the Interstate 75 and Interstate 4 junction near Tampa, over three hundred miles north. Another went even further, reaching the St.Augustine area in northeast Florida, before it too was killed. About 48 panthers have been hit by cars in Florida since 2000. Only more public concern for this big cat will save it.

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