Florida population

Florida Panther spotted on security cameras roaming Polk County backyard

A backyard security camera in Polk County captured footage of a Florida panther walking around the neighborhood.

The experts said panthers have already been spotted this far north, but development is encroaching on the big cat’s habitat. Residents of the Beverly Rise subdivision were shocked to hear about a surprise visitor last week.

“One of my neighbors sent me the video and informed me as I am taking care of my daughter’s dog and told me to be careful at night when you go out,” Kalpesh Patel said.

Dr. Carol Rizkalla, Florida Panther Management Coordinator for FWC, said the panther was just passing through.

She said the panther is most likely a male looking for a territory to call home. Big cats have been spotted this far north in the past, however, the only breeding population remains in the southwestern part of the state.

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“Once a young panther grows up, it reaches two or three years old. It will try to find its own area, and so they travel very far,” Rizkalla explained.

The panther prowling South Lakeland is actually the second sighting this month, but the other was not seen alive. A 2.5-year-old man was hit and killed by a vehicle on the Polk Parkway about two weeks ago.

RELATED: Florida panther killed in Polk County marks 11 fatalities since start of 2022

The death marked 11 panthers killed so far this year on Florida roads. However, FWC said the main threat to panthers is habitat loss.

“I don’t see any hiding place that they can hide easily, as much of the orange grove has now been turned into housing estates,” Patel said.

“We’ve also had a lot of bobcats in the area, and I think it’s because of all the neighborhoods they’re building here,” Burnett added.

Conservation groups have worked to preserve natural lands across the state, so panthers and other wildlife have protected places to live and thrive.

“We want to be able to maintain panthers across the state and let them peacefully co-exist with the human population,” Rizkalla said.

Experts said panthers prefer areas with dense trees and shrubs in which they can hide, and cats typically move out after dark.

You can report sick, injured or dead panthers to the FWC here. If you see a live panther, try to take a photo or video and report it to FWC here.