You may have heard of Marvel’s Black Panther, the sports brand Puma, or the Pink Panther cartoon. All of these names are inspired by the same animal- the mountain lion. This wild cat is known by different names in different areas of the world. It’s originally from North and South America and has lived on these continents for centuries.
But do they reside in Florida? Let’s Find Out!
Are There Mountain Lions In Florida?
According to Florida Wildlife experts, there are native mountain lion species in the state of Florida.
The United States is home to the Puma concolor cougar, the North American cougar subspecies. They’re one of the biggest wild cats in the entire continent. Their population used to be big as well, until the 1900s. Constant hunting and deforestation drastically lowered their numbers in the east. They ceased to have a breeding population in most states and were declared extinct.
However, one state retained its cougars throughout this period of extermination, and that’s Florida. Known as the Florida cougar, these animals are the only confirmed cougar population in the Eastern U.S.
How Many Mountain Lions Live In Florida?
Mountain lions were once considered a “nuisance animal” in Florida, because of their high numbers. In 1950, the state had to change their status to “game species,” so that hunting and killing them could be regulated. Eight years later, they were on such a decline that they were declared a “state endangered species.” By 1996, the state barely had around 30-50 panthers.
Today, things are looking much better for these cats. It is estimated that there are around 200 Florida panthers currently residing in the state. These cats are the only surviving kin of their eastern ancestors.
What Part Of Florida Has Mountain Lions/Cougars?
Cougars were once found across many eastern states, not just in Florida. Historically, they have also lived in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Today, they are only confined to the Sunshine State. They survived all these years because they lived in the untouched, uninhabited Everglades.
Florida panthers are mainly found south of Orlando. Most of the breeding takes place in the southern parts as well. Panthers prefer to live in forested areas, pinelands, cypress swamps, and hardwood forests. These places have dense understories of vegetation, which allows them to hunt effectively.
Some particular spots to spot a Florida panther are the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, the Collier-Seminole State Park, and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
How Big Are Mountain Lions In Florida?
Here’s a fun fact about panthers- even though they’re larger than most cats, they aren’t technically considered “big cats.” That being said, they are big enough to give you a good scare, should you ever cross paths!
In Florida, they grow up to 6-7 feet long. On all fours, they stand at around 24-28 inches at their shoulders. Most males weigh around 100-160 pounds but can reach 200 if they’re well-fed. Females are smaller and lighter, usually weighing around 70-100 pounds.
Mountain Lion Sightings In Florida?
Most Florida panthers live in south Florida, so that’s where the sightings occur. However, sightings are rare since these panthers are reclusive and prefer to live in isolation. As humans encroach more and more natural landscapes, the sightings will increase in frequency.
In June 2023, a panther wandered into a suburban neighborhood in Naples, Southwest Florida. It was caught on camera by one of the residents, who saw it lurking around her backyard.
Two years prior, a Florida photographer managed to spot not one, not two, but FIVE panthers on the same day. This was near the entrance to the Everglades Reserve. It appeared to be a female lion who was teaching her kittens how to hunt.
All panther sightings are reported to and confirmed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Also, Check Our Guide On Mountain Lions In the U.S.
Can You Shoot A Mountain Lion In Florida?
No, you cannot shoot mountain lions in Florida. Florida Panthers are the last of the eastern cougars in America. They are an endangered species. This tag comes with special protections and laws.
Anyone who illegally kills a Florida Panther can be punished with a year-long prison sentence. They will also be charged a pretty hefty fine.
Can you own a mountain lion in Florida?
No, you can not own a mountain lion in Florida. Florida panthers are very rare to come by. They prefer habitats like the Everglades, where they have plenty of space to hunt and roam.
If you’re a Florida resident and you acquired a cougar before 2009, you are allowed to keep it. However, anyone who wishes to own one now will not be allowed to. Florida panthers are an endangered species. Many efforts are being made to restore their population in the wild.
What To Do If You See A Mountain Lion In Florida?
Florida panthers tend to stay away from people and crowded areas. Encountering one is extremely rare, but it does happen to some. Once in a while, a curious cat may wander into secluded neighborhoods and farms. Or, you may happen to lay eyes on one while visiting a State Park.
Spotting a mountain lion is a reason to celebrate. Many people wish they’d see one at least once in their lifetime, but they aren’t lucky enough. However, it’s important to remain safe so no harm comes to either you or the panther.
Keep your distance and try not to draw attention to yourself. If the panther happens to notice you, make sure you stay calm. Don’t turn your back or run away, because it might chase you. Wildlife experts recommend that you should always remain upright, and keep facing the animal.
You can scare it off by making yourself appear bigger- remove your coat, stand up tall, and wave your arms around. In case it does attack, you can fight it off with whatever objects are lying nearby, or your bare hands.
What Big Cats Live In Florida?
If you’re brave enough to explore the unexplored parts of Florida, you may catch a glimpse of two different wild cats. One is the Florida panther, and the other is the bobcat.
The Florida bobcat, also called the Florida lynx, is a grayish-red wild cat. These cats are about twice the size of your neighborhood tabby cat. They are found in nearly every single Florida county.
They can be recognized by their spotted fur and their short, “bobbed” tail. They are carnivores who mainly feast on hares and rabbits. You may spot them among the trees, looking for fresh meat, or at the beach- catching some rays during their post-hunt siesta!
Also, Read About Mountain Lions in Georgia
And that was everything about the Mountain Lion In Florida. I hope this article answers all your questions.