The Florida Panther, a North American cougar, lives throughout Everglades National Park, as well as numerous counties surrounding the park. Twenty Florida Panthers were in the wild in the 1970s. By 2017, their numbers had increased to an estimate of 230. Since 1982, the Florida panther has been the state animal.
Spotted at birth, Florida Panthers typically have blue eyes. As they grow, their spots fade, and the coat becomes completely tan. At the same time, their eyes typically take on a yellow hue. With an underbelly that is creamy white, the tail and ears will have black tips. Surprisingly, the Florida panther lacks the ability to roar. They do make a distinct sound that includes whistles, chirps, growls, hisses, and purrs. They are smaller than cougars from Northern and Southern climates but are larger than cougars from South America.
Chosen based on a factor that includes prey available, panther kittens are born in dens created by their mothers, often in dense scrub. A kitten will spend the first six to eight weeks in those dens. During the first two to three weeks, the mother spends most of her time nursing her kittens. Once she starts weaning her kittens, she spends most of her time away from the den. She will bring prey to them. When they are old enough to leave the den, in the company of their mother, they learn how to hunt. During this time period, the male panther is rarely encountered, as male and female panther avoid each other outside of breeding. A panther kitten will begin to hunt at two months old and hunt on their own after two years of age.
As far as natural predators go, the American alligator comes in first. Following a close second are human through poaching and wildlife control measures. There are two other elements that are causing high mortality rates among panthers, the automobile and territorial aggression between the Panthers. Once an incident happens, an injured panther is taken to the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Florida for recovery. The White Oak Conservation Center also raises orphaned kittens.
Other factors that threaten the panther population are habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation. Fast developing areas in southern Florida are also causing problems for prime panther habitat. As well, fragmentation by major roads has severely segmented the sexes of the Florida panther. Because females are much more reluctant to cross the roads, males have a much higher rate of being involved in car collisions.
Major developments to a natural population expansion are the Caloosahatchee River. Young males wonder over extremely large areas in search of available territory, while females occupy home ranges close to their mothers. Panthers are poor colonizers, and, consequently, expand their range slowly.