It’s been a rough year for Florida’s official animal, as 15 percent of the state’s remaining wild panthers have perished (largely due to being hit by cars). Now comes particularly grisly news out of Yeehaw Junction:
An anonymous caller reported seeing a dead Florida panther by the side of the Florida Turnpike near Yeehaw Junction. That’s more than 150 miles north of where most panthers live.
When Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staffers checked out the tip Thursday afternoon, they discovered something more disturbing: someone had cut off the panther’s head.
On Friday the state wildlife agency offered a reward of up to $1,000 for information that could lead to the arrest of whomever took the grisly souvenir.
“To just simply whack off a panther’s head is against the law,” explained agency spokeswoman Joy Hill.
There’s also a $15,000 reward on offer for information leading to the arrest of whoever murdered a Florida panther this past April.
We hate to be pessimists about the fate of the so-called cat of God, but can any species come back from such circumstances? When we read about rebounds from the brink of extinction, the data is never quite as grim as it is for the Florida panther—just 100 animals left in the wild, and no indication that their main killer (motor vehicles) will become less lethal any time soon. If anything, accidents look certain to increase, as older males roam farther afield in search of food.
The best model for recovery may come from the black-footed ferret, whose population shrank to as little as 120 before rebounding to a few thousand today. But panthers strike us as far too rambunctious to lasso into captive breeding programs.