A trail camera has picked up the extremely rare sight of a panther prowling a preserve in South Central Florida.
The Florida panther almost went extinct during the 1970s when there were estimated to be just 20 left in the wild; now that number is up to around 200 that live mainly in state parks on the edge of the Everglades.
To spot one — and get it on film no less — about an hour’s drive from Tampa in the Florida Heartland is exceptionally rare. But a trail camera set up by Justin Ainslie, a local hunter with a hunting permit at Duette Preserve, captured a majestic individual.
“The last deer hunt, he walked by right before I was about to walk out to my stand,” Ainslie tells Fox 13.
“He was out there when I was hunting. I’ve never seen one but it’s pretty cool to know that it’s around.”
Park ranger Jerry Miller says the images offer irrefutable proof there is a panther at the 20,000-foot reserve and that it’s healthy and doing well.
“Historically, the Florida panther roamed the whole southeast United States, and so in the 70s and 80s, their population was maybe 10, specifically in the Everglades, and since then, with conservation efforts, their populations have spread north a little bit,” Miller tells WFLA.
“They’re pretty quick moving through so sometimes you can get them and sometimes you can totally miss them and just its tails so to be able to get a video of it continually walking through is super unique and rare.”
Miller himself managed to get some shaky footage of a panther two years ago on the edge of Duette Reserve in Manatee County.
“To have them, you have to have green spaces. Duette Preserve is Manatee County’s largest preserve with about 22,000 acres and it’s nowhere near big enough; we need green spaces, we need ranch lands, conversation lands.”
As development increases in rural areas, panthers are often killed by vehicles on roadways.
“They just want to co-exist and live and silently move through the swamps and do their things,” adds Miller.
The growing ubiquity of trail cameras is leading to more confirmed sightings of elusive predators than ever before — earlier this month PetaPixel reported on extremely rare footage recorded by a trail camera in Michigan showing a mountain lion taking down a deer.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.