By Live Wildly, Images courtesy of fStop Foundation
When Arnie Bellini, founder of the Live Wildly Foundation, locked eyes with a Florida panther playing with a butterfly in his backyard near Tampa Bay, he was inspired to protect the wildlife and nature that make Florida, Florida. From that moment, the “live wildly” movement was born with a mission to protect and connect the Florida Wildlife Corridor for generations to come.
Beyond conserving these critical lands, Live Wildly also wants all Floridians to understand their personal connection to the corridor and encounter the state’s outdoors up close, just as Bellini did. What better way to experience Florida than through the state’s official animal and the sighting that kickstarted Live Wildly?
Whether in your backyard, a hike in the Everglades or driving under a wildlife crossing (check out “Crossing Cougar Country” to see this in action), this National Cougar Day (June 12) and every day, learn how to protect and live in harmony with one of Florida’s wildest locals — the Florida panther.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor and the Florida panther
The Florida Wildlife Corridor covers nearly half — 18 million acres — of the state from the panhandle to the Florida Keys. It provides important habitats and passageways for more than 2,000 species, 60 of which are threatened or endangered, including the Florida panther. From the waters you swim in, to the wildlife in your backyard, the corridor touches your life every day, whether you realize it or not.
The Florida panther and other wildlife rely on the corridor to survive, thrive and travel across the state. Live Wildly is on a mission to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the land these animals (and plants!) call home. Live Wildly and its partner organizations aim to conserve the remaining 46% of the Florida Wildlife Corridor still at risk of being developed before it’s too late.
For a close look into how vital the Florida Wildlife Corridor is to the Florida panther, check out Live Wildly impact partner Wildpath’s new National Geographic feature film, “Path of the Panther.”
Florida panthers make Florida, Florida
The Florida panther is one of the most iconic animals in the Sunshine State, which is in part why elementary school students voted for it to be the official state animal in 1982. Florida panthers are a subspecies of pumas, also known as mountain lions or cougars and are the last breeding population of the subspecies living east of the Mississippi River.
Throughout history, panthers roamed Gulf Coast states, from Florida to Louisiana to Arkansas. Now, it’s estimated just 120-230 adult and subadult panthers remain in the wild, residing primarily in southwest Florida. You may spot a panther in the Everglades and Big Cypress State Parks — both protected by the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
For more than 50 years, the Florida panther has been listed as a federally endangered species. Now, more than ever, it’s critical to sustain the Florida Wildlife Corridor for their future survival. According to the species recovery plan, experts require three populations of at least 240 panthers with suitable habitat be established to remove Florida panthers from the endangered species list. Protecting and connecting the Florida Wildlife Corridor is key to meeting this goal.
Living in harmony with the Florida panther
It’s rare to encounter the elusive Florida panther — even deep within the Everglades. Florida panthers are stealthy and crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. If you do get the unique opportunity to see a Florida panther, you’ll most likely spot one in southwest Florida, their most popular breeding area.
Though seeing Florida panthers is rare, it’s not impossible. But there’s no need to worry — most Florida panthers mind their business and avoid humans.
How we can safely co-exist with Florida panthers
- Give them time and space to move along. They’re unlikely to approach you.
- Avoid gardening vegetation or plants that attract wildlife such as deer (one of the Florida panther’s favorite treats!)
- Keep pets on a leash and small children nearby during prime panther roaming hours. But note, there have never been any reported attacks on humans by Florida panthers.
- Do your part to protect the Florida panther’s home.
- When exploring areas where Florida panthers and other wildlife live, make sure to dispose of all your trash and keep your food stored safely out of animals’ reach.
- Avoid planting invasive species in your backyard that may harm wildlife.
- Volunteer your time. The Florida Trail Association and Florida State Parks offer several volunteer opportunities across the state, from cleaning up beaches to serving as a campground host.
- Support Florida panther survival by purchasing Live Wildly merch — 100% of proceeds support corridor protection and connection.
The Florida panther is a key part of what makes Florida unique. To protect its livelihood and survival for the future, it’s important to keep these practices in mind and do your part to take care of their environment. There’s no better time to prioritize these efforts than on National Cougar Day! Living in harmony alongside the Florida panther is easy — it just takes a little effort, and a lot of love for the Florida Wildlife Corridor and the animals that call it home.
To learn more about panthers, the Florida Wildlife Corridor and how to get involved with the Live Wildly movement, check out our website and social @LiveWildlyFL.
And, be sure to watch the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild episode, “Crossing Cougar Country,” to see how organizations are protecting cougars in Florida and Los Angeles.