This article was published June 18 2019
Kittens are one of the finer things life has given us - whether they're domestic house cats or cougars. So really, it's no wonder why the internet is captivated by the sight of rare Florida panther kittens caught on camera recently.
According to Meredith Budd, a Southwest Florida Field Representative at the Florida Wildlife Federation, kittens were recently spotted by surveillance cameras placed to monitor the movements of panthers at the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest.
"Transportation ecologist, Dr. Daniel Smith checked the cameras recently in the Keri Road corridor of the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and he was able to capture the videos of the panther mom and kittens," she stated.
Although the video surveillance dates back to April, Budd said that the cameras are not live-streamed, so they get checked every few months manually when Dr. Smith changes the memory cards. It takes hours to go through the footage since the cameras are motion activated.
The videos were posted publicly for the first time last week.
You can even see mom carrying the kitten in this video:
This footage is absolutely incredible and rare. The Florida Panther is related to the American mountain lion as a subspecies and is the state's official state animal. It has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1967. Budd shared the following information with us:
Historically, the Florida panther roamed across the southeastern portion of the United States—all the way from Florida to Louisiana throughout the Gulf Coast states and Arkansas. Today the only place with wild Florida panthers is the southwestern tip of Florida, representing just 5% of their historic range.
By the 1990s there were thought to be less than 30 individual panthers left in existence. The population was so small that there was likely inbreeding which would certainly threaten the species’ long-time survival. It was at this point Texas cougars were introduced, which is a very close cousin to the Florida panther.
This helped turn the declining population around, and today we have an estimate between 120 and 230 adults and sub-adults in the wild. With a growing panther population, it is even more pressing to focus on habitat preservation for the species.
Florida panthers utilize a diversity of warm climate habitat, but they are also wide-ranging, solitary, and territorial animals-with males requiring up to about 200 square miles for their own territory (this is the equivalent to 97,000 football fields!)
In order for the pather numbers to continually increase, a lot of habitat changes had to be made. The Florida Wildlife Federation's southwest office has an ongoing campaign to secure wildlife crossings across Southwest Florida and to promote habitat connectivity among the region’s public and private conservation lands—this will ensure the Florida panther has sufficient habitat and, ultimately, to lead to the recovery of the species.
"We focus on wildlife crossings because roadways are lethal barriers for wildlife and wildlife movement. Roads significantly contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation which are the greatest threat to establishing and maintaining sustainable populations of the endangered Florida panther and many other species of native wildlife."
Vehicle strikes on roads are the leading cause of mortality for panthers. Last year, there were 26 panther deaths due to vehicle collisions (including two 4-month old kittens recovered on October 10, 2018). In the few short months of 2019, there have already been 9 panther deaths due to vehicle collisions.
"As Florida’s population and tourism industry continue to grow, the demand for more and larger highways will increase. There are several wildlife crossings along roadways throughout the state—many of which the Federation has worked alongside agencies to implement."
The underpasses have helped the panther (as well as other wildlife's) population increase. There is an online database of underpass information where visitors can access information and photos of wildlife using the underpasses.
Budd states that the organization will continue to fund as many projects as possible to help grow the panther numbers. If you would like to help too, you can learn more and donate to the cause here.
Supporters can also become a member of the organization and stay up to date with newsletters and special events.