Traveling across the Everglades, a motorist will see signs that caution “panther crossing”, and “wildlife on roadway”. Speed limits are reduced at night to protect nocturnal species. Hundreds of miles of fences stretch from one side of the state to the other. Wildlife is often observed behind the fence and one might wonder if you’re traveling through a zoo or you are part of the zoo.
The Big Cypress National Preserve, established in 1974, is a vast 750,000 acre wilderness in the heart of the Everglades. Three main roads cut through the preserve. I-75, also known as Alligator Alley runs east/west from Fort Lauderdale to Naples. SR-29, aka Panther Pass runs north/south along the western border of the preserve and US-41, aka Tamiami Trail cuts just above the southern boundary of the Preserve and runs from Miami to Naples.
In the 90’s, the Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) population dropped precipitously low to an estimated 35 cats. Various methods were used to help the population, including introducing eight Texas Cougars, installing reduced speed limit signs in popular panther habitat and building wildlife underpasses and overpasses. The majority of the passes were built along I-75 with an additional 6 passes built along SR-29. They were built in locations where an unsustainable number of road fatalities to panthers had occurred as well as American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and many other species.
Fencing helps redirect the wildlife to the bridges where they can safely cross, prevents vehicular accidents and maintains contiguous habitat for animals that are known to wander far and wide throughout the wet and dry seasons.
In January of 2012, Florida DOT installed solar-powered, Remote Animal Detection Systems in areas where fences are not practical. LED-slit signs flash when the RADS are triggered, warning motorists of wildlife on or near the roadway.
Safe from vehicles, the deer in the photo was grazing behind the fence, oblivious or uncaring that I stood just fifteen feet away. It also happened to be inside the Panther Refuge…..