Panthers, Perceptions, and Cattle Ranching in Florida

The Florida panther is the only puma population currently found in the eastern United States. While in the 1980's the population was thought to be as low as 20-30 individuals, recent conservation efforts have resulted in an estimated population of 100-160 panthers . This population growth has placed panthers in closer proximity to humans, resulting in increased calf depredation on ranches. These events have led many local ranchers to view panthers in a negative way. Ranches provide quality habitat for the Florida panther and therefore ranchers' acceptance and support is critical to the successful recovery of the Florida panther. This acceptance is influenced by both the real and perceived impacts that panthers have on calf mortality and other aspects of the ranching business.

To address these issues, graduate student Caitlin Jacobs (advised by Martin Main) will quantify calf mortality caused by the Florida panther and other predators on two ranches in southwest Florida. A total of 200 calves will be tagged with ear tag transmitters in each of two years. Transmitters are equipped with a mortality mode, allowing me to monitor calf survival. All calf mortalities are documented and evaluated for cause of death. For depredations, she determines the predator responsible using evidence at the site and she sets up remote sensing trail cameras to obtain additional information on the individuals involved. In this way she is able to determine whether the same individual is responsible for different predation events or if multiple individuals are preying on calves. The following video was taken by one of these cameras and shows a female panther returning to her cache site to finish eating a tagged calf she killed the day before.

Caitlin is also conducting a survey to gauge ranchers' attitudes and risk perceptions of Florida panthers and assess response to various compensation and incentive based programs for providing panther habitat. The results of this survey will serve as a tool for wildlife management agencies as they begin to work with landowners on issues surrounding Florida panther recovery.