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Panther encounters could rise, which could hurt the big cats

Naples resident got close to the endangered animal
Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 07:00:39-04

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — A surprise encounter with a Florida panther left a Naples homeowner startled. It’s also a reminder that we share Southwest Florida with this critically endangered species.

Mark Costa’s street in Golden Gate Estates is lined with dozens of houses, all of which sit just a few miles from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

That led to the sighting of a lifetime for Costa. But wildlife experts warn that those encounters can be bad for this endangered species.

“I’ve seen (panthers) off in the distance, but never ever as close as it was the other night,” Costa said.

So close that Costa could take cell phone video of a Florida panther, just a few feet in front of him, from his front door.

The sighting happened at about 1:30 a.m. Monday. Costa was getting ready for bed when his video doorbell alerted him to movement in his driveway.

“I ran up to my front door and through the window I was able to see it come down the sidewalk,” Costa said. “Then it stopped right there looked at me for a brief second, then went around the house to state forest behind us.”

Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said: “Being aware and knowing that we’re living in panther habitats in Southwest Florida is an important thing for our community to know and understand.”

Crooks spent 10 years working with the Florida panther refuge before joining the Conservancy. She said habitat loss is the No. 1 threat to panthers, especially in the area where Costa saw the endangered animal.

“Particularly in our eastern lands, we are seeing continued development pressure from new development and new mines and new impacts on endangered species habitats,” Crooks said.

The biggest impact comes from cars.

Last year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 27 panther deaths — 21 of them from vehicle strikes.

So far this year nine panthers have been killed, all of them by vehicles.

“That’s why so important for everyone to keep an eye out and be aware when driving in Southwest Florida,” Crooks said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife has a list of tips for avoiding animal conflicts on its website.