Florida Panthers are the best deer predators


Florida panthers are now the number one killer of white-tailed deer in Southwest Florida, a new study led by the University of Georgia has found. The study focused on the survival factors of white-tailed deer. The research, published in the Journal of Applied Ecologyfound that panthers killed far more deer than previous studies had shown.

Researchers captured and fitted 241 deer with GPS collars during the study, which was funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from 2015 to 2019. During that time, 96 of the collared deer were killed by Florida panthers.

In the 1990s, according to the University, bobcats and hunters were the main white-tail predators in the southwestern part of the state, and few deer were killed by panthers. But the big cat population has since increased tenfold, and the UGA study shows that only seven deer have been killed by bobcats and one deer has been shot by a hunter in the four years. This marks a dramatic shift in predation.

“Panther predation has gone from being a very small source of mortality to the major source of deer mortality,” said Richard Chandler, associate professor at UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Bring back the panthers

The Florida panther is listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Florida is the only place in the eastern part of the country where you can find the animals. In 2017, there were 200 Florida panthers in the wild, which was a significant increase from 20 to 30 in the 1990s. numbers, a strategy that has clearly worked.

“Introducing female Texas cougars to the population has increased panther numbers, genetic diversity and survival rates,” said David Shindle, Florida panther recovery coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This new study also showed that current changes in the landscape could have a major impact on deer populations. With programs like the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan underway, restoring natural water flows will benefit many aspects of Florida’s ecosystem, but deeper waters will also cause more problems for deer. The study found that the survival of female deer decreases in deep water areas. This, coupled with the rise in panther deaths, means hunters might find they have the end of the stick.

Read more: First-ever photos of Florida panthers mating captured by surveillance camera

“They’ve restricted the hunter harvest a bit to benefit the deer population and to make sure there’s plenty of prey for the panthers. But it’s a balancing act,” Chandler said. “They don’t want to close hunting opportunities, but they don’t want the harvest to be so high that it suppresses the prey population and prevents the panthers from recovering.”

Chandler went on to say that more work by researchers will need to be done to determine if deer populations can be properly managed for the benefit of both panthers and humans.


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