Panther Encounters May Increase As Development Continues

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COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — A surprise encounter with a Florida panther surprised a Naples homeowner. It’s also a reminder that we share Southwest Florida with this critically endangered species.

Mark Costa’s street in Golden Gate Estates is lined with dozens of homes, all of which are within a few miles of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

This led to the sighting of a lifetime for Costa. But wildlife experts warn that such encounters can be bad for this endangered species.

“I saw (panthers) in the distance, but never as close as the other night,” Costa said.

So close that Costa could take cellphone video of a Florida panther a few feet ahead of him from his front door.

The sighting occurred around 1:30 a.m. Monday. Costa was getting ready to go to bed when his video doorbell alerted him to movement in his driveway.

“I ran to my front door and out the window I could see him coming down the sidewalk,” Costa said. “Then he stopped right there, looked at me for a brief second, then walked around the house to the state forest behind us.”

Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said: “Being aware and knowing that we live in panther habitats in Southwest Florida is an important thing to know and understand for our community.”

Crooks spent 10 years working with the Florida Panther Refuge before joining the Conservancy. She said habitat loss is the No. 1 threat to panthers, especially in the area where Costa saw the endangered animal.

“Particularly in our eastern lands, we are seeing continued pressure from new developments and new mines and new impacts on endangered species habitats,” Crooks said.

The biggest impact comes from cars.

Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 27 panther deaths, including 21 from vehicle collisions.

So far this year, nine panthers have been killed, all by vehicles.

“That’s why it’s so important for everyone to keep an eye out and be aware when driving in Southwest Florida,” Crooks said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife has a list of tips for avoiding conflict with animals on its website.

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