CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER - The Florida Panther is fighting its way back from the brink of extinction, and members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition are seeing signs of the panther in their travels.
But the panther faces many dangers, as photojournalist and expedition member Carlton Ward Jr. tells WUSF.
Ward spoke from the southern banks of the Caloosahatchee River, at the very southern edge of Glades County.
It’s one of the only natural linkages between south and central Florida across the river, which connects Ft. Myers to Lake Okeechobee.
Ward said he hasn’t seen a panther, but they’ve seen a lot of signs of them – especially under an underpass of I-75 into Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
“There were numerous panther tracks going in both directions, bear tracks, coyote tracks,” he said.
“And shortly into our walk that morning, there was fresh panther scat. It was probably from that morning. You can see deer hair and other signs of a recent feed.”
The number one killer of panthers in Florida is collisions with vehicles. Five panthers have died so far this year from crashes in just Collier County.
Ward said one of the solutions is clear: more underpasses under major roads. They protect wildlife and people.
“Running into a panther or bear at 60 miles per hour in your car usually doesn’t end well for either side,” Ward said.
He said these underpasses also protect the flow-ways for natural water as well as wildlife.