Progress was made for Florida panthers on Monday night, when the Sunshine State’s Hendry County put into effect a new slow speed nighttime panther zone on a 5.25 mile stretch of CR 832/Keri Road. The road’s posted speed limit will now drop from 55 to 45 mph at night, when panthers are most active and visibility for motorists is low.
A rural road that bisects the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, Keri Road (pronounced kee-rye) is a documented danger zone for panthers and other wildlife. Nine panthers are known to have been killed by vehicles on CR 832, six of which were within the state forest. While the road has a posted speed limit of 55 mph, many drivers exceed that speed. When the Hendry County Engineering Department recorded vehicle speeds on the road in August 2011, they found that 85 percent of motorists drove 65-70 mph, despite the legal speed limit of 55 mph.
The new designation will not only allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its law enforcement partners to warn drivers and enforce the speed limit in the state forest on Keri Road, but it will help to increase awareness about driving carefully on CR 832 and other rural roads.
Keri Road is a documented danger zone for panthers and other wildlife–nine panthers are known to have been killed by vehicles on CR 832, six of which were within the state forest.
Defenders’ Laurie Macdonald said, “For years, Keri Road has been a very dangerous roadway for panthers as well as for people. Now, thanks to the support of landowners, natural resource agencies and conservationists, Hendry County has taken an important first step toward improving passage for panthers and other wildlife across this stretch of highway. We are very hopeful that the reduced speed limit will raise awareness about the need to drive carefully and watch out for wildlife.”
Collisions with vehicles is one of the leading causes of death for Florida panthers. In 2009, 17 panthers—a record high—were killed while crossing roads, and in 2010, 16 panthers met a similar fate. For a species whose population is believed to be just 100-160 animals, even the loss of a single cat is significant.
Defenders’ Elizabeth Fleming caught sight of her first wild panther the same night the Keri Road slow zone was approved. Read about her firsthand encounter with one of the state’s iconic cats.
Where does Florida’s state animal stand today? Read our Q&A with Laurie Macdonald to find out!
Check out the slideshow of Keri Road’s new slow zone below, courtesy of panther advocate and Defenders volunteer Eric Myer.