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Endangered Florida Panther Numbers on the Rise

Jun 19, 2014 11:45 AM EDT

Endangered Florida panther numbers are on the rise, state officials announced in a meeting Wednesday, a good sign that conservation efforts are making progress.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists provided an update at the agency's June Commission meeting in Fort Myers regarding Florida panther research and conservation programs. According to their estimates, there currently may be as many as 180 panthers in the wild.

However, based on this figure and the animal's need for an expansive habitat, The Daily Ridge reported, panthers have likely reached their current environment's carrying capacity.

In the past, panthers have ranged throughout Florida and into seven other southeastern states. Today, most reside south of the Caloosahatchee River, and are quickly outgrowing this area, putting conservationists in a predicament.

"Due to the expansive habitat needs of the Florida panther, the continued growth of their population presents a unique challenge to the FWC and US Fish and Wildlife Service," said FWC Commissioner Liesa Priddy. "As panther range expands, impacts on private landowners will continue to increase."

Officials caution that as population increases, so does the chance encounter with humans, according to a report by the Naples Daily News.

To mitigate trouble, Conservation Commission biologist Thomas Eason said the agency is exploring several programs to encourage private landowners to welcome panthers onto their land, including reimbursement for any livestock casualties.

"We want to work with private landowners until panthers are seen as an asset," he said.

The Florida panther hovered on the brink of extinction in 1994 when there were only between 20 and 30 panthers left, the Associated Press reported. The animal is still on the US Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list. To move to the lesser status of a "threatened" species, there needs to be two separate populations of 240 panthers, three to be completely delisted.

Florida residents can help with panther research by reporting sightings at Reporting observations can help FWC biologists address panther conservation needs by identifying where these cats live.

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