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Contact: Bob DeGross, NPS, 239-695-1107
Contact: Dani Moschella, FWC, 561-625-5132
Contact: Kyla Hastie, FWS, 706-613-9493 x234
State and federal agencies responsible for managing the endangered Florida panther will partner with Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta to host a meeting with Naples area residents about how to live safely with Florida panthers and other wildlife. The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, November 16, at the University of Florida Agricultural Extension Service at 14700 Immokalee Road in Naples.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service are working to educate residents of southwest Florida about the endangered Florida panther. As the human population in this area increases, Florida panthers and people inevitably come into closer contact with each other. State and federal agencies are increasing their collective efforts to provide common-sense safety tips and strategies for living with panthers.
"People have to be careful around wild animals," said Chuck Collins, Regional Director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s south region. "We are committed to working closely with residents of Collier and surrounding counties to provide them information so they know what to do to reduce risks to themselves, their pets and their livestock."
While there has never been a report of a Florida panther attacking a person, the number of encounters between Florida panthers and pets or livestock increased in 2006. Since January there have been six confirmed incidents of panthers preying on pets and domestic livestock – more than in 2004 and 2005.
"I have received a number of reports of panther sightings in the Golden Gate Estates area," said District 5 Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta. "While there has never been a reported instance of a Florida Panther attack on a person, I still have concerns for the safety of our residents that live in areas where panthers roam. For that reason I have asked for this public outreach from both the state and federal agencies that oversee the local panther program."
"As Southwest Florida continues to grow and develop, there is less suitable habitat for panthers," said Layne Hamilton, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. "If they have a choice, they’ll avoid humans. But they have fewer choices these days."
The town hall meeting will provide information to area residents about how to live more safely in areas also utilized by Florida panther and other wildlife, such as black bear and alligators. Agency representatives will answer residents’ questions, listen to their comments, and provide information and guidelines for ways to reduce risks from all wildlife.
Panthers once occurred throughout the Southeast, but today, scientists estimate between 80 and 100 Florida panthers remain in Southwest Florida. Panthers are rarely seen, and travel primarily at night. Because of their large home range (60 – 120 square miles), they travel widely looking for suitable habitat and food. Public lands in Collier County including Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Picayune Strand State Forest and the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed all support panthers, but these large cats are also dependent upon private lands that surround these properties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
For more information about panthers, visit MyFWC.com/panther/.