Youth Want Us to Get Serious About Saving Florida Panthers

Florida Panther
Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Jenn Domashevich

Tomorrow marks the first Save the Florida Panther Day of the new decade, and this elusive cat is still critically endangered. The Florida panther is one of the world’s most endangered animals surviving under a constant barrage of threats, including development of its limited habitat, as we previously reported.

We must seriously focus on saving this iconic species for future generations. After all, students throughout Florida selected the panther as the state’s mammal in 1982. But young people outside of Florida love the panther too. Tyler Prasuhn – a middle school student from southern California – shared with NRDC a school essay he wrote on saving Florida panthers, even though his state is home to its own big cats.

Tyler Prasuhn, age 13
Credit: Photo credit: Shannon Prasuhn

Tyler begins his essay with: “The Florida Panthers have been affected by the bad decisions of some people.” This is sadly true.

Although Florida panthers are a distinct subspecies of Puma concolor, they face similar threats to California mountain lions in Tyler’s neck of the woods – development of remaining habitat and death by car. In Florida, state legislators passed legislation enabling construction of a new toll road through panther habitat, despite nine traffic-related panther deaths just this year. Panthers are also being sickened by a new neurological disorder. Despite these threats, government agencies continue to permit large-scale development in remaining panther habitat.

Florida journalist, Craig Pittman, recently wrote an entire book on the sad history of panther habitat development in Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther.

To make matters worse, habitat considered essential for the panther’s survival in the Everglades’ Big Cypress National Preserve is under siege by the fossil fuel industry, which began new oil exploration there in 2017. If oil is found, drilling could follow.

But there’s some good news. After almost five years of advocating with our Florida partners, we learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to classify the seismic testing for oil taking place in the preserve as a regulated activity under the Clean Water Act. After a visit to Big Cypress to view the damage, the Corps’ enforcement section issued a notice to the oil company requiring it to obtain approval from the Corps before starting any new oil exploration. We hope that state and other federal agencies will step up to protect Florida panther habitat from damaging oil exploration and development.

In the meantime, we are encouraged to see that the next generation of advocates is well on its way to safeguarding our most precious natural resources and wildlife, including the Florida panther. As Tyler reminds us: “With your help, people can bring this wonderful species away from extinction from just putting in the time and effort to save this species.”

You can help by reporting any Florida panther sightings to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

To help protect the Florida panther from extinction, take action here.

And here’s a video of this amazing creature.