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Florida panther experts honored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Date: May 20, 2010
Contact: Bob DeGross, 239-695-1107
Contact: Patricia Behnke, FWC, 850-251-2130

Biologist Deborah Jansen working on a panther in the field.
Deborah Jansen, leader of the Big Cypress National Preserve panther capture team, collars an adult Florida panther.
NPS Photo by Jan Shirey, Volunteer

Three Florida panther experts recently received a conservation award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for their work in managing the endangered species. Darrell Land and Mark Lotz work on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) panther team, and Deborah Jansen heads up the panther program at Big Cypress National Preserve. All three have spent considerable time during their careers to conserve Florida’s state animal for future generations. Part of this conservation strategy was development of a plan to help deal with interactions between people and panthers.

Land, the FWC’s panther team leader, wrote the original Panther Response Plan and worked on various drafts before the final plan was approved in 2007. Using a puma management plan developed in the Western United States, the current plan balances public safety while still protecting an endangered species. Ever since graduating from the University of Florida with his master’s degree in 1985, Land has been involved with the state’s panther team.

"In the past decade, there has been a noted increase in human-panther interactions in South Florida," Land said. "This plan, created in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, ensures those interactions will be handled efficiently to the benefit of both people and panthers."

The USFWS acknowledged that Jansen’s input into the plan development was crucial. She received the award because of her experience in dealing effectively with human-panther interactions, which enhanced development of the plan. She heads up the panther capture team for Big Cypress, where she has worked for the past 30 years for a variety of agencies, such as the FWC and the National Park Service. Her wildlife career began in Everglades National Park working with crocodiles.

Lotz’s interest with panthers began as a seasonal firefighter with the USFWS at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. He has been on the state’s panther team since 1994. Lotz received the award because of his work on the ground actually carrying out the plan by responding to all human-panther calls on both private and state lands. The records of these reports aid in the updates needed each year to the plan to assist in addressing public safety issues and protection of Florida panthers.

The panther’s numbers declined to approximately 30 cats by the early 1980s, but efforts to conserve its dwindling population began as early as 1958, when the state listed it as endangered. The low population resulted in severe inbreeding, which created many health and physical problems. A genetic-restoration project in 1995 brought success by improving the genetic health and vigor of the panther population. Today, biologists estimate there are approximately 100 panthers in South Florida. One of the biggest threats today involves negative outcomes from human-panther interactions.

"The Florida Panther Response Plan is a crucial tool for all of the partners in South Florida to use to protect the panther population from further danger," said Kipp Frohlich, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Section leader. "This award for Darrell, Mark and Deborah represents the solid partnership that exists on the panther team across agencies. Florida’s panthers are in good hands."

For more information on Florida’s state animal, visit PantherNet.

Did You Know?

Many large trees that did exist were harvested in the early 1900s.

There are few "big cypress" in Big Cypress National Preserve. The name actually refers to the great expanse of cypress forest, hundreds of thousands of acres, within the Big Cypress Swamp.