A female panther was spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River for the first time since May of 2018.
The endangered cat was captured on a trail camera in Charlotte County in December, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Tuesday on Facebook.
FWC also collected tracks documenting her presence.
The agency answered some questions from the Sun about this panther, and the endangered species, which has been spotted more here in recent years.
Where was the panther spotted in Charlotte County? Was she in Babcock Ranch Preserve?
Researchers confirmed the presence of an adult female panther in eastern Charlotte County through tracks and photos on Dec.19, 2019. At this time, the FWC will not be able to provide more specific location information for the protection of the panther and the equipment used.
Do you think she lives here or was just passing through?
This female panther likely resides in the Charlotte County area.
Are there any estimates for how many panthers are living in Charlotte County? Are there any panthers living in Sarasota County?
We do not have any population estimates at the county level. Previously, the FWC documented kittens in this Charlotte County area back in 2017. A male panther was documented within Carton Reserve (Sarasota County) in the early 2000’s.
Does this sighting mean the panther population is rebounding or that more panthers are living in Charlotte County?
FWC verified the presence of at least two panther kittens north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida in March of 2017. These kittens are presumed to be the offspring of the first wild female panther documented north of the river since 1973. These pictures of a female with kittens indicate there are now panthers breeding north of the river.
In 2015, biologists collected a photo of what appeared to be a female panther in the FWC’s Babcock Ranch Preserve Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte County. They deployed additional cameras in the summer of 2016, and captured more images of what they believed to be a female panther.
Is this latest panther sighting the same female panther sighted before in Charlotte County?
We do not know if this is a new panther, or one that had been sighted in the Charlotte County area in the past.
What’s the track of migration of the panthers into Charlotte? Are they swimming across the Caloosahatchee and then making their way here?
Although it is possible that panthers would use highway bridges across the Caloosahatchee River, we presume that they would simply swim across the river. We have documented some panthers approaching and then crossing the river in locations east of LaBelle. In the case of this sighting, the panther could have arrived at that location by crossing the Caloosahatchee River or may have been born north of the river.
How many panthers are there in Florida?
Although most panthers are found south of Lake Okeechobee, they have been documented throughout the peninsula and even into Georgia. Female panthers have only been documented in south Florida so that is where all known breeding occurs. Panthers are listed as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act and it is illegal to harm or harass them in any way. There are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population.
How can the public help panthers?
Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers. Florida residents can also support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate at BuyaPlate.com. If you have any trail camera images of Florida panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River, FWC asks for you to share them at public.myfwc.com/hsc/panthersightings/ For more on FWC’s Florida panther program visit myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther