Crist proposes advocate for endangered panthers

Published February 12, 2007

NAPLES - Gov. Charlie Crist wants to hire an advocate to manage an increasing number of complaints about run-ins between people and the rebounding population of the endangered Florida panther.

Crist's budget proposal unveiled Feb. 2 includes about $231,000 for a state panther campaign, including a $37,567 salary and a $26,211 vehicle for a panther advocate. The Legislature must approve the position.

In recent years, panthers have rebounded from the brink of extinction, from roughly 30 to about 100 on the southwestern edge of the Everglades.

But the big cats have been blamed for killing emus from a zoo and goats and dogs from rural back yards. Documented panther attacks on livestock jumped from two in 2004 to six in 2006. Biologists also are reporting more panther deaths on Florida highways.

Warnings about keeping children close after dark and caging livestock have triggered concern in fast-growing southwest Florida, where development is pushing up against the panthers' remaining 2.5-million acres of habitat.

Residents "are quite understandably concerned," said Layne Hamilton, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuges in eastern Collier County.

"We have a lot of new people moving into this county," Hamilton said. "We have to find out a way to reach out to them."