Jenn Cooper, of Golden Gate Estates, spotted a panther in her backyard, took video and shared it via Facebook Monday, Aug. 27, 2018.
Jenn Cooper – Monarch Farms Naples, FL, Fort Myers News-Press
Reports of Florida panthers killing livestock or pets in Southwest Florida were down in 2018 after a record 2017, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission figures show.
FWC recorded 28 such killings, or depredations, in 2018 compared to 55 depredations in 2017. So far in 2019, there have been two depredations, a cow on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian reservation in Hendry County and a calf on a ranch in Collier County.
Prior to the spike in 2017, panthers killed 29 livestock animals and pets on average each year, according to an analysis of FWC data from 2010 to 2016.
Since 2006, there have been about 317 documented incidents of panthers killing pets or livestock in Southwest Florida, according to FWC data.
Most of the recorded attacks have been south of the Caloosahatchee River, with a greater concentration in the Golden Gate Estates area.
The statistics became personal in May 2018 for Debbie VanProoyen, leader of the Naples Livestock 4-H Club.
VanProoyen keeps goats on her property in the Estates. Living among the goats are two livestock dogs, large breeds meant to live with the herd and keep it safe from panthers and other predators.
“Our male, older dog was outside with the herd and must’ve left to go do rounds. That’s when the panther took advantage,” she said. “The panther was so bold to take my goat, with all these dogs around.”
VanProoyen called FWC, which sent out an officer who found panther tracks and took DNA swabs of the area to verify the predator was a panther.
When VanProoyen’s friends and neighbors experience a depredation or interaction with a panther, she helps them investigate, gives the the number to FWC and provides what help she can if the animal is wounded.
VanProoyen teaches her 4-H club about the risks of living near panthers. One of the 4-H’ers found a missing goat cowering in a shed. It had wounds that became more prominent once it was shaved and the claw and teeth marks were visible.
“We used it as a study for our group to help the kids learn,” VanProoyen said. “I have nothing against the panthers, but somebody needs to take care of the issue. Living off of people is not really saving the panther.”
The Florida panther population is estimated between 120 and 220, a five-fold increase since a reintroduction program in the 1990s. The FWC identified fewer than 50 panthers in 1995 and brought in eight Texas cougars to “restore genetic variability”, according to an FWC assessment plan.
Growing populations of panthers and people have led to an increase in conflicts with panthers as measured by roadkill and panther depredations of livestock and pets.
“We canvass the areas where we’ve had problems,” FWC panther team leader Darrell Land said. “We try to get the word out” that there has been a depredation in the area.
FWC officers will distribute pamphlets about living near panthers, set up A-frame signs warning of the attack and investigate the killing to determine what took place. The pamphlets advise having livestock enclosures with a roof and solid sides, vegetation management to reduce panther hiding places — and due vigilance.
Kasia Cusick said she thought it was one of her goats but quickly realized a panther had just run about 30 feet behind her 8-year-old daughter, grabbed a chicken and darted across her backyard in Golden Gate Estates.
The panther that killed Cusick’s chicken back in July 2017, had first attempted to take one of her goats, she said. There were scratch and puncture marks from the panther, which she estimated at about 150 pounds.
“I remember it was about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when kids were coming home from school,” she said. After failing to kill her goat, the panther spotted the chickens and made a beeline for them. When the panther left Cusick’s property, she remembers it leaping over her electric fencing, grazing its paw on the top forcing it to drop the dead chicken.
She contacted FWC, which sent out an officer who was unable to confirm that it was a panther, Cusick said. She no longer lets her children outside without a dog with them.
According to FWC data back to 2006, goats have been the primary source of panther depredations, with 121 killings recorded. Cattle are the second most recorded animal with 62 cows and calves. Sheep, horses (both standard and miniature), dogs and cats also are killed on a yearly basis.
VanProoyen and Cusick both expressed fears about the danger children face with panthers in the area.
“There certainly haven’t been any documented records (of panthers attacking humans), said Land. He acknowledges that panthers in other areas of the country have been known to attack people, but explained they are rare occurrences. Land also cautioned vigilance: “We’re not immune (from attacks) here.”
Rancher concerned about panther depredations. Cliff Coleman believes that panthers are threatening his livelihood as as hunting guide.
If a cattle rancher in Southwest Florida loses an animal to a panther, they can contact the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The Conservancy offers $599 per calf, according to environmental policy manager Amber Crooks.
Land and Crooks both emphasized that an FWC investigation must be concluded to determine that an animal was lost to a panther before a rancher can receive a payout.
The Conservancy compensates ranchers with 300 head of cattle or less, which helps conserve the funding and assist more people over time, Crooks said.
The Conservancy also can help defray the cost of panther-resistant enclosures for the animals. Crooks said the group has helped build 20 secure pens.
The pens, which can cost $1,000, must have a roof and four walls, Crooks said. A fence is not enough to keep panthers away from livestock.
Since the program’s inception in 2011, the Conservancy has provided more than $25,000 to both the cattle compensation and the pen enclosure programs.
“We currently have sufficient money to continue the program for the foreseeable future,” Crooks said.
More information about the Conservancy’s Panther Compensation Program can be found on its website.
Read or Share this story: https://www.news-press.com/story/tech/science/environment/2019/02/22/florida-panthers-prey-pets-livestock-swfl/2948776002/