Thursday, May 20, 2010

Florida Pather Experts Honored

Conservation Award Goes To Three In South Florida

Three Florida panther experts recently received a conservation award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for their work in managing the endangered species. Darrell Land and Mark Lotz work on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission�s (FWC) panther team, and Deborah Jansen heads up the panther program at Big Cypress National Preserve.

All three have spent considerable time during their careers to conserve Florida�s state animal for future generations. Part of this conservation strategy was development of a plan to help deal with interactions between people and panthers.

The panther�s numbers declined to approximately 30 cats by the early 1980s, but efforts to conserve its dwindling population began as early as 1958, when the state listed it as endangered. The low population resulted in severe inbreeding, which created many health and physical problems. A genetic-restoration project in 1995 brought success by improving the genetic health and vigor of the panther population. Today, biologists estimate there are approximately 100 panthers in South Florida. One of the biggest threats today involves negative outcomes from human-panther interactions.

Land, the FWC's panther team leader, wrote the original Panther Response Plan and worked on various drafts before the final plan was approved in 2007. Using a puma management plan developed in the Western United States, the current plan balances public safety while still protecting an endangered species. Ever since graduating from the University of Florida with his master�s degree in 1985, Land has been involved with the state�s panther team.

The USFWS acknowledged that Jansen's input into the plan development was crucial. She received the award because of her experience in dealing effectively with human-panther interactions, which enhanced development of the plan. She heads up the panther capture team for Big Cypress, where she has worked for the past 30 years for a variety of agencies, such as the FWC and the National Park Service. Her wildlife career began in Everglades National Park working with crocodiles.

Lotz's interest with panthers began as a seasonal firefighter with the USFWS at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. He has been on the state�s panther team since 1994. Lotz received the award because of his work on the ground actually carrying out the plan by responding to all human-panther calls on both private and state lands. The records of these reports aid in the updates needed each year to the plan to assist in addressing public safety issues and protection of Florida panthers.

For more information on Florida�s state animal, visit PantherNet at .

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