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, wild hogs, and raccoons, but they are opportunistic hunters with a varied diet. Any unsecured domestic animal may be at risk of depredation. Several technical and financial assistance programs are available depending on the circumstances.
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. 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, and be able to support 200 pounds. The sides should be secured and flush with the ground so there are no gaps or weak spots that a panther or other predator 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. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Defenders of Wildlife offer cost-share programs to help individuals construct predator-resistant enclosures (or retrofit existing enclosures) to secure pets and hobby livestock. Finally, the most important thing is to consistently use it!
- Reduce or remove low-growing vegetation that can provide stalking cover where animals are kept. Panthers are ambush predators and try to get as close as possible before attempting to catch and kill prey.
- Install motion-activated lighting (e.g., Foxlights®) or other deterrent devices, such as sprinklers (Water ScareCrow®) or noise makers (Critter Gitter®). The surprise of a light, water or noise suddenly turning on may alter a panther’s behavior.
- Electric fencing around an enclosure also may deter an inquisitive panther or other wildlife from attempting to depredate your animals. However, electric fencing is ineffective against panthers when placed on perimeter fencing surrounding one’s property, because panthers can easily jump over a fence (see below) and may never touch the hot wire.
Panthers are skilled jumpers. Standalone fencing (or a roofless pen) typically will not provide adequate protection from panthers.
Many of Florida’s large cattle ranches provide high-quality habitat for native wildlife. Because cattle typically roam across expansive landscapes, panther depredations can be difficult to prevent or even detect. Due to their size, adult cattle typically are not preyed upon, but calves up to 350 pounds have been killed by panthers. A 2011–2013 study conducted by the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation found that calf loss to panthers averaged 0.5% and 5.3% annually on two ranches in southwest Florida. In the study, most calves depredated by panthers weighed less than 200 pounds and were between 0–3 months old.
Certain livestock management practices, such as shortening the calving season and confining calving to low-risk pastures, may reduce depredation risk where implementation is feasible. While range riders and livestock guard animals, particularly certain dog breeds, have been used in other parts of the world for various predators, their effectiveness in reducing panther depredations has not yet been evaluated in Florida.
The FWC’s Panther Depredation Compensation Pilot Program provides compensation to commercial cattle ranchers who experience fatal or ultimately fatal panther depredations. Suspected panther involvement must be evaluated by an experienced investigator during a site visit. Compensation without a carcass is possible if adequate field sign and circumstantial evidence exist. Payment rates are an approximation of fair market value at the time of cattle loss and are tied to Florida auction prices. The program provides a price floor, based on a rolling 6-month average of auction prices, as the minimum payment level. For more information, see our Panther Depredation Compensation Pilot Program rack cards:
- English: Panther Depredation Compensation Pilot Program
- Spanish: Depredación por Panteras Programa Piloto de Compensación
Commercial cattle producers can alternatively apply for compensation for livestock losses caused by federally protected species, such as the Florida panther, through the Livestock Indemnity Program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has a compensation program for free-ranging cattle on small farms that have been lost to panther depredation.