Florida panther spotted on trail camera in Polk County

An endangered species in Florida, the panther, is popping up in Polk County.

Trail cameras, set up and monitored by teams of experts, are tracking the panthers' movements.

In the last two months, a male panther has been seen twice on a trail camera at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest.

"This particular panther is easy to identify because he has a significant limp," said William Freund, President of the fStop Foundation. "One of the paws has been injured for a long time though it does not seem to stop him. He looks healthy and is a strong male and shows the resiliency of the species and how incredible they are."

The 'fStop Foundation', a nonprofit, is working with ZooTampa to monitor panthers and other wildlife in Polk County to raise awareness for conservation.

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fStop has more than 150 cameras deployed across the state, and the group supplied six cameras to the state forest, while ZooTampa monitors them.

"In this area they're definitely not as prevalent, so it's something we have been waiting for over the last year," said Lisa Smith, an Animal Care Supervisor at ZooTampa. "Capturing him was exciting for the whole team."

The majority of female Florida panthers tend to live south of the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida, while males, like the one spotted at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, are north of the river.

There are about 140 to 240 Florida panthers left remaining in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss and human impact.

"It's super important we support them and help educate guests on how we can support them," said Smith. "Simply driving slow on our highway systems and preserving wild land is huge for the Florida panther. They're such a cool species, they are so beautiful. They are our Florida state animal, so we just want to encourage people to learn more about them and want to help support them."

ZooTampa hopes to continue to work with fStop by monitoring more cameras in other locations to see if panthers are moving northward.

"An ultimate goal would be to catch mom with kittens on one of our cameras. That would be proof the panther population is spreading around the state again," said Smith.

If you would like to donate to the fStop Foundation to help raise awareness, click here.