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Florida Panther in Sarasota County

SARASOTA COUNTY - While the Florida Panther is our state animal, seeing one of these cats is unusual.  A Florida Panther is elusive, and most stay in Southwest Florida in the protected state and federal lands.  But a rare sighting has county officials growling with excitement.

We've heard stories before about a panther being spotted in a subdivision, but the truth is nine times out of ten...it is really a bobcat.  But this time was different for workers at the Carlton Reserve in Venice.  They had proof that the big cat was in fact a Florida Panther.

Debbie Blanco is in charge of more than 24,000 acres of land which makes up the Carlton Reserve.  "I'm responsible for all the land management activities out on the Carlton." 

Her job puts her up close to all the different wildlife on the reserve.  "We get whitetail deer, lots of feral hogs, wild turkey, bobcats...coyotes are becoming more and more prevalent."

But while these animals might be a common occurrence out there, there has been one animal that makes everyone pounce.  "Only once before do we have a documented sighting of a Florida Panther."

A few weeks ago, an employee was driving down a trail when something on the side of the road caught her eye.  "She couldn't find any signs of tracks, but she was pretty positive it was a panther by the look...long tail, long tawny body, no spots."

Blanco came out to look for tracks herself, and made a cast of a paw.  She sent it to FWC for confirmation that the Carlton Reserve in fact has a male Florida Panther roaming around.

Workers started to check their motion sensor cameras that are placed throughout the reserve to see if one of them captured the shy feline.  The only pictured found proved too grainy to know for sure.

But after the rare sighting, workers are paying extra-close attention to every movement in the bushes.  "If he stays, I'm thinking we're probably doing some right...some good things with land management as far as our prescribed burning, improving wildlife habitat and in general just trying to manage the ecosystem as a whole," says Blanco.


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We enjoy the Florida wildlife and hope you enjoy our photos! Read about the Florida Panthers, bobcats, roseate spoonbill, sandhill crane, pelican and wood stork; images and information.