Trail Cam Pics courtesy of Juan Mejia

                        UNDER the UMBRELLA


We tend to view the panther as a solitary animal, & that it is, but it doesn't survive on its own, it interacts with & impacts the environment it lives in.


Folks have said to me why should the panther be protected in Florida, why place so much more importance on one species over another, why not simply protect a wild area for the panthers to live in?  It’s a good question, so let me explain the reality of the situation, and the special place the panther holds in the Florida landscape.


The Florida panther is an endangered species, this means it is rare, and the population at dangerously low numbers. Low numbers = a poor gene pool, this makes panthers vulnerable to natural or man made disasters. Outbreak of disease, harmful toxins released into the atmosphere, the water or food chain, habitat destruction, environmental catastrophe, are all events that can put the entire species at risk. The lack of diversity can be a death sentence in itself, reducing the panther’s ability to adapt to pressures and changes, instead of being able to recover from any negative impact on its population, it may decline into oblivion. What a devastating loss to the Florida eco system that would be, we see the results of predators wiped out of their native ranges in the Mid-west, and most of our Eastern states today.


Predator population levels tend to be much lower compared to the species they prey on. The predators roll in nature is that of regulator. They will prey on the sick and injured, hunt the young and the adult animals of a herd; this helps keep a herd healthy, reduces surplus, and makes room for other members of a herd to move up in rank. The presence of a predator will keep other animals alert, and encourage them not to stay in one place for too long, helping to prevent overgrazing and allow young saplings to grow. The larger predators like the wolf & panther, control the numbers of mid-size predators like the coyote & bobcat; they in turn act on smaller mammals & rodents, which then affect the birds, the bugs and the plants. It filters through an entire landscape of living things.


As far as setting aside a wild place for panthers, depending on the abundance of what the panther needs - food, water, cover, mates, the cat may require a large range to roam, and use many different habitats to support its lifestyle. So just setting aside an area won’t do. It would not provide the population with enough variation, and eventually return them to the inbred and unhealthy state many of them were found in. The need for protected wilderness areas that connect from one to another is essential to panther recovery.   


In promoting the panther, we are not just saving the life of one species, but numerous other animals, plants, and habitat, that become part of its life cycle and benefit from the protective umbrella the panther provides. That is why the panther is known as an ‘Umbrella species’, the panther is the umbrella, sheltering those beneath it.


We will feature other Florida animals and plants that are touched by the panther’s web of life in future articles.