By Marc Criffield
In March of 2017, FWC documented a female Florida panther with two kittens north of the Caloosahatchee River on the Babcock Ranch Preserve (BRP) via trail cameras (see April 2017 Field Notes). This followed the documentation of a female panther on the BRP in November 2016; the first since 1973. These were momentous events for the recovery of the endangered Florida panther.
Monitoring of these trail cameras by FWC, with support from a group of private and public partners, continued throughout 2017. These types of data collected on panthers will help guide the delineation of the boundary for the known breeding range as successful dens are verified.
No additional photos of the kittens from March 2017 were documented over the summer. This may be a testament to the hardships panther kittens face during their first year of life, a period where our analyses have demonstrated that survival rates are only 32%. If this litter did not survive, it certainly would not be unexpected.
A second litter of panther kittens was documented on the BRP on 22 November 2017. A female panther was photographed with two, approximately 4-month-old, kittens. Given that the number of documented females north of the River is so low, and that females will go into estrous soon after the loss of a litter, there is a high probability that this is the same female that produced a litter in March.
These events give some perspective as to the challenges impacting panther recovery. Although the loss of a litter is disappointing, new kittens demonstrate the resiliency of wild animals in their quest to survive. This most recent litter may certainly be comprised of survivors as they already weathered hurricane Irma in the confines of their den. This latest discovery offers renewed hope for the natural range expansion of panthers that is critical to their long-term recovery.