After 50 years, the panther still prowls

- Lyndon Johnson was president and the Vietnam War was raging in March of 1967. In that same year, the Florida Panther was first listed as endangered.

Nearly 30 years later in 1995, the panther was nearly extinct, with around 20 left in the wild. Now, 50 years after it was listed, the panther has better numbers, but continued challenges.

Scientists say there are now between 100 and 180 Florida panthers in the wild.

"I'm actually very encouraged with the progress that's been made with these cats recovering," offered Dr. Ray Ball, senior veterinarian at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.

Ball takes care of injured panthers and has worked with biologists to count and track the cats in their habitat in South Florida. He says female pumas brought from Texas to breed with the Florida cats helped save them.

Construction and development show no signs of stopping in Florida, but populations of both people and panthers are up. Scientists say, for the panther to thrive, they need to be introduced outside their main habitat in South Florida. In fact, they say, the state should have three panther habitats. 

One area that's been identified is the Big Bend area around Apalachicola. Ball says that area could support 75 panthers.

"We can have managed sustained growth for people and we can also have panthers as well," Ball added.

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