Depredations: Protecting Pets and Livestock
A panther depredation is when a panther kills or injures domestic animals such as goats, sheep, calves, dogs or house cats. Panthers are carnivores that primarily prey on white-tailed deer, hogs and raccoons but they are opportunistic hunters and their diet varies. Any unsecured domestic animal may be at risk to depredation.
Homeowners and Hobby Farmers
The best way to protect your household pets and backyard hobby animals is to keep them indoors or in a predator-resistant enclosure, especially at night. In order for an enclosure to provide adequate protection against panthers, it must be totally enclosed. The roof can be solid or made of heavy gauge fencing (such as chain link). The sides should be secured and flush with the ground so there are no gaps or weak spots that a panther may push through or go under. Make sure the door is securely fastened so it cannot come open if it is rammed by an animal on the inside (a chain or cable fixed around gate posts will keep the gate closed). You can build an enclosure of your own design or follow the plans in the guide to building enclosures. Finally, the most important thing is to consistently use it!
- Remove or reduce low-growing vegetation that can provide cover. Panthers are ambush predators and must get as close as possible before initiating an attack.
- Install motion-activated lighting. The surprise of a light suddenly coming on may alter a panther’s intentions.
- Electric fencing around an enclosure also may deter an inquisitive panther from attempting to get your animals. But it is ineffective when placed on perimeter fencing surrounding one’s property, because panthers can easily jump over a fence and may never come into contact with the hot wire.
Commercial Cattle Ranchers
Many large ranches provide quality habitat for native wildlife. Because cattle typically roam across expansive landscapes, panther depredations are difficult to prevent or even detect. Due to their size, adult cattle are not typically preyed on but calves up to 300 pounds have been killed by panthers. A study conducted by the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation found that calf losses due to panther depredation ranged from one to five percent annually on two ranches in southwest Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Administration has a Livestock Indemnity Program that offers partial payment for livestock losses caused by animals protected by Federal law, such as the Florida panther. While livestock-guard animals, particularly certain breeds of dogs, have been used in other parts of the world for other predators, they have not been studied or evaluated in Florida in regard to panthers.
Various agencies and organizations offer assistance programs depending on the particular set of circumstances. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Defenders of Wildlife offer cost share programs to help individuals acquire a predator resistant enclosure to secure their pets and hobby livestock. Additionally, The Conservancy has a compensation program intended for small-scale cattle farmers with herds up to 300 head who have lost calves due to panther predation. Large-scale commercial cattle ranchers can apply for compensation for livestock losses caused by federally protected animals (such as the Florida panther) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Administration Livestock Indemnity Program. For more information and to apply for the program appropriate for your needs:
- The Conservancy of Southwest Florida Pen Building Assistance and Free-ranging Cattle Compensation Programs