Mother and Kittens Signal a Long-Awaited Milestone for Florida Panthers

Panthers on the move in Florida!

For the past forty years, female panthers have been stuck in south Florida. Males have come and gone, venturing northward, but not a single female had ever migrated beyond the Caloosahatchee River—a major impediment to dispersal, and, therefore, expansion of the species. All this changed in November 2016, when a mom-to-be braved the river’s water, swam across into new territory, and carried with her the hope of an entire species.

Only months later, a camera trap captured the image of a miracle: silhouetted against a backdrop of saw palmetto, two kittens following closely behind their intrepid mother—a sight that hadn’t been seen north of the river throughout the entire history of the Florida panther recovery effort.

Panther and kitten north of the Caloosahatchee River (MyFWC)

Defenders has worked to realize this vision for years. Before we had time to celebrate, though, another female was documented north of the river, as well as a separate pair exhibiting what appeared to be mating behavior. With this massive step forward, it is hoped that these females will continue to produce kittens and carry on the northbound expansion that is so critical to the species’ recovery.

Working to Realize Panther Recovery

To protect these panthers and facilitate their continued movement, Defenders’ Southeast Team is tirelessly working to secure large tracts of core habitat, wildlife corridors, and safe underpasses. We serve on the Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team as the conservation representative and, as a member of the transportation sub-team, where we work tirelessly to reduce collisions on roads. The sub-team strongly supported the project currently underway by the Florida Department of Transportation to install exclusionary fencing and two bridge ledge wildlife crossings along the last unfenced area of Alligator Alley—a deadly nine-mile stretch of I-75 that has claimed the lives of 15 panthers since 2004.

Despite highway mortalities, the Florida panther population has continued to grow. Population range estimates were revised in February 2017 from 100-180 to 120-230 adults and subadults in south Florida. But for panthers to continue to make conservation gains in the long-term, they need to establish a breeding population outside of south Florida. Indeed, projections show that, unless we continue to add conservation lands to Florida’s protected areas network, by 2070, Florida could lose more than five million acres of land to development, fragmenting wildlife corridors and impeding northward expansion of panthers.

Today, we are at a unique crossroads. With the handful of northbound females, we have the rare opportunity to safeguard the future for panthers. This will require a lot of hard work—namely, the protection of large tracts of habitat and essential travel corridors, a reduction in vehicle collisions, and the willingness of people to share the landscape with these wide-ranging predators. To realize this future, Defenders will work with partners to expand our outreach efforts north of the Caloosahatchee River. We will focus these efforts on working with stakeholders in areas with increased panther activity, especially along panther dispersal zones. We will also continue to help fund and construct livestock protection enclosures; encourage responsible practices that prevent human conflict; develop improved incentive programs for landowners who manage their properties in ways that benefit panthers; advocate for improved land use and transportation planning that prioritizes safe passage for wildlife; and collaborate with elected officials throughout Florida to advance panther recovery.

Interested in helping? You can adopt a panther.  The proceeds help fund our work with state and local officials. You can also sign up for our emails where you will get all the latest news and action alerts to support wildlife.

21 Responses to “Mother and Kittens Signal a Long-Awaited Milestone for Florida Panthers”

  1. Phyl

    FLORIDA….WISE UP!!!! FULL PROTECTION FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHER IS A MUST MUST MUST!!!! Please fully protect the Florida Panther & other wildlife. Open up lands just for the Florida Panther & other wildlife…keep it untouchable to humans & human destruction. Please

    • Ruthanne Berry

      We need to preserve our land and animals in order for us to survive. The
      animals were here first, unless we are killing them for food there is no good reason to kill them!

  2. Donald H Talley

    The panthers belong here . We don’t . Humans have proven that . Human greed rapes the earth . The animals replenish the earth .

    • jill

      I agree 150% D. Talley…and that applies to all animals.

  3. Dianne O'Quinn Burke

    Now a retired Artist, I have been painting a series of wildlife portraits of those in danger of extinction. If you have an interest in using my images to sell as they are, greetings cards or T-shirt images, please contact me at above email address. Google my name which will take you to Amazon pages with some of the many books I have illustrated in the past for various children’s book publishers. Hoping to be of service for our iconic and beautiful animals! Dianne

  4. Judith Campbell

    As an animal activist I know how critical it is to save many animals from extinction. All the ‘Big Cats’ , panthers included are in danger of becoming extinct. We must protect them, have safe corridors and the habitat for their survival.
    I’m an avid Wolf activist. Such a persecuted, misunderstood animal and MUCH needed to maintain healthy Echo systems. We Must learn how to coexist with Wolves, and provide the habitat for them to survive and thrive without mankind interference so that they can raise their families in peace. No more killing them! Thank You

  5. georgia gillespie

    i cannot tell how much we value you and your efforts for the florida panthers. xo i was so excited when i saw this announcement on my DEFENDERS update; you guys are so amazing. THANK YOU!!!

  6. norma graciela varrone cancio


  7. Sherry Quinn

    These are magnificent cats and need protection and habitat to survive. Human greed does not need every square inch of the planet. The killing must stop! This is not the year 1817 when there was plenty of wild places. There is virtually no wild places left for the wildlife to go and live in peace and raise their young.

  8. Billie Jean Hendrix

    I was born in Punta Gorda, Florida in Southwest Florida right on Charlotte Harbor/Peace River as it meets the Gulf. We are 23 miles north of Ft. Myers where the Caloosahatchee River runs. Our woods growing up were full of wildlife be it the wild cats/panthers, the eagles, the alligators, and so many others. We still had access to several fresh water ponds and streams full of bream and perch as well as pristine beaches full of shells where you could walk without manmade barriers; only the natural sand dunes and Seagrape bushes. But over the past 6 decades; the wildlife has slowly vanished due to overdevelopment of the land and the beaches. Where my family and friends went has been relegated to a microcosm of what it once was. Once building on the beach side was allowed to happen; everything changed. Even tacky parking lots took up beautiful beach sand, trees, and shells. What a tragedy as the land in Charlotte County was so beautiful when I was younger and now there is such a blight on Hwy 41 where housing looks like a giant slum from Charlotte Harbor to the old Murdock beach road area that got named Port Charlotte. It started out as a housing development in the late 50s and grew to the slum that it is today. That use to be land for cattle to graze and wildlife to exist. And yes they co-existed with us humans. Never heard of an attack of any animal on any human be it gator or panther or eagle ever. First of all if you left them alone they left you alone. My Granny, Momma, and my Aunt use to take us to an area called the Sandflats where we would picnic and there gators that came up at different time in the distance and they would just gather up the food and stuff and we would leave. You heard big cats howling and there was even an area across the harbor called the Eagles Nest for the reason that the eagles had giant nests of their young in those tall Pine trees. It was a great sight to see. The tacky sprawl that has existed for decades with rundown housing and strip shopping centers was allowed to happen due to there being no zoning ordinances and what is left is a real disaster area. The animals whose habitat was once beautiful to look at is gone. A bulldozer would do wonders for that horrid area.

    The Everglades in Florida which is so important to the eco-system has been so compromised throughout the decades as well. People turning lose pythons which they had no right to own in the first place have bred and have threatened the wildlife that is native to the Glades.
    Man has done a very poor job of being a steward of this earth in causing all of the pollution and all of the man made problems in the name of progress and it has and will come back to haunt us.

    Yes, people have to live and share this earth too. But depleting entire species of animals is NOT progress. There is a balance to nature and when the scales of nature is tipped; man eventually will suffer from it all. You can’t control the climate contrary to what people think; but you can control your pollution and the effect it has on the land, our water, the wildlife, and us humans. Mother Nature is the one in charge, not some bureaucrat in any country on the face of this planet and try as man may; you can’t fool Mother Nature in the end.

    The human species is the only species on the face of the planet that murders, abuses, enslaves, and neglects. There is not one species in the animal kingdom that kills unless that is their hierarchy and it is done for food or protection of their young or of themselves when threatened.

    Man has lost his moral turpitude and it has become a global holocaust regarding living creatures. The animals of the world regardless if in the wild, the farm animals, or those labeled domesticated such as dogs, cats, birds, etc are like our children in the respect that they are suppose to be in man’s care; not to be abused or savagely slaughtered for the almighty dollar.

    Sincerely, Billie Jean Hendrix, Charlotte, NC


  9. brian girard

    Protect and save all wildlife, animals, sea life, bird life, plant life and trees now. Our eco-system and web of life is under full attack if our web of life is broken down than human life is broken down and will be wiped out forever. killing wildlife is killing all life.

  10. Lisa Smith

    Please help to preserve wildlife! Protect our panthers, wolves, polar bears,etc..Habitats!!

  11. Lucienne

    Wild animals need our utmost protection for they are precious and very important for the balance of nature . Our future generations need to be able to marvel at the infinite wonders of wildlife . Animals make our planet beautiful !

  12. Henry Tasto

    What an amazing story. Let’s do whatever it takes to help preserve these awesome animals.

  13. Anne Inmon

    We must do everything possible to save these beautiful creatures and their habitat

  14. Dena Shelangoski

    It’s so wonderful to see mothers with babies in a newer location so hopefully the population can grow again, given that humans don’t evilly kill them.

  15. Sandy Norris

    We must protect this species from human contact and let them resurge and build up the numbers. The wolves and grizzlies also need protection. Please keep the panthers in Fla. safe and let them live in peace.

  16. Marjorie Coey

    What a wonderful moment captured and shared with us…that mother panther is smart, smart, smart!!!

  17. Cynthia Elia, RN

    I am from Central Florida, and would welcome bicycling and hiking among the Panthers!
    Please continue their North expansion.

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