Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary protects 13,000 acres of cypress forest, wet prairie, and pine flatwoods: important habitats for the endangered Florida Panther. Now, the donation of a taxidermied panther will help educators at the Sanctuary better tell the story about the work being done to keep these majestic animals roaming freely in our state.
In 2017, a two-year-old male panther, identified as UCFP 310, was the victim of roadkill in Hendry County on County Road 846 near County Road 858. This healthy specimen weighed 111 pounds and was 6.89 feet long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. Because it was in good condition, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to allow the animal to be taxidermied, if the right entity would take it for educational and display use.
FWC Commissioner Liesa Priddy reached out to educators at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the commitment was made. She then worked to have the taxidermy expenses underwritten by Mark Clemons with Everglades Adventures in Clewiston and Troy Shirley of American Outdoors Taxidermy in Ocala.
“We really appreciate the opportunity to have this Florida Panther, which lost its life on a nearby Florida highway, to help us educate visitors and students about the value of protecting habitats like those within Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary,” said Lisa Korte, Ph.D., Sanctuary Director.
The species’ historic range covered the entire southeast United States; however, by the 1970s land-use changes, hunting, and water management practices reduced its range to southwest Florida. Florida panthers are making a comeback since dwindling to about two dozen cats in 1990 to approximately 200 today, with breeding females now found north of the Caloosahatchee River for the first time in four decades.
According to the FWC, 20-25 Florida panthers are killed on Florida roads each year, with 15 roadkills reported so far in 2020. In addition, a small, but growing, number of panthers are killed in territorial disputes. The high number of panther deaths, combined with the shrinking amount of available habitat for these animals, is a testament to the importance of establishing and maintaining wildlife corridors across the state.
Audubon partners with several conservation groups, local large landowners such as Priddy’s JB Ranch, Collier County, the state of Florida, and the federal government to collaboratively protect panther habitat, which includes efforts to implement more wildlife crossings under roads through known panther habitat. Through a permanent new exhibit in the preliminary planning stages, this animal will see new life in the Blair Audubon Center, where students and visitors can gain a better understanding of the value of habitat conservation.
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance that was recognized in 2019 as a Wetland of Distinction by the Society of Wetland Scientists, has been an Audubon-protected site for more than 100 years. It protects 13,000 acres, including the world’s largest remaining, old-growth bald cypress forest. An estimated 100,000 visitors annually explore the Sanctuary’s 2.25 miles of boardwalk through ancient forest and marsh habitat.