Most people don’t wake up to find a wild animal in their backyard, let alone a rare and potentially dangerous one—except for the Hendra family. Whilst visiting his dad’s house in Fort Myers, Florida, Phil Hendra’s son came into the house, saying there was a “funny dog” outside on the porch.
It turned out to be not a dog at all—but a rare panther instead.
“We were shocked because it didn’t run away when it looked at us. We were able to watch it from inside and take photos,” Hendra told Naples News.
He added that they were all pleasantly surprised. Instead of running away, the animal continued to sit on the porch for a while, unperturbed by the humans who peered through windows just to watch and take pictures
“We watched it from inside and took photos,” Hendra said. “We were shocked and amazed that an experience like this had happened to us and will always remember the beauty of such strong rare animal.”
But why had a wild animal wandered so far into human territory?
According to Darell Land, a team leader at the FloridaWildlife Conservation Commission, despite their solitary nature, panthers have been spotted and removed from people’s backyards, porches and driveways.
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It wasn’t even the first time that a panther had made its way to the Hendra backyard.
The Hendras have been living in the Fort Myers house since 1988. They have seen a young panther in the neighborhood about two years before that, but they had never seen a fully grown Florida panther, nor would they have expected to find one lounging on their porch.
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Florida panthers have been on the list of endangered species since 1973. A genetic restoration plan was implemented by conservationists and since 1995, the population has been growing but still not enough to be put off the endangered species’ list. The current population stands at 180 cats.
The FWCkeeps a registry of Panther sightings and posts them on its Facebook page. They encourage people to take pictures and video to be posted on the FWC’s Sighting Registry but Phil Hendra’s photos of the panther that was lounging on his porch were posted and quickly went viral.
People were interested in seeing a large predator gazing through the windows of a house, seemingly unfazed by the people who peered back at it
“There is nothing like this once in a lifetime experience,” Hendra told Fox 13 News reporters.
Although it stayed out on the porch for about 20 minutes, the excitement in the house lasted longer after the panther left. Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’ Panther Sighting Registry also helps to track movement and location throughout Florida. A lot of panther sightings have been reported around Southwest Florida, a few have been spotted in Central Florida.
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However, there are about 5 to 10 cats that can be found in these Everglades National Park and surrounding areas.
Florida panthers have been an endangered species since 1973.
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The population grew significantly after 1995, when a genetic restoration plan was put into place to replenish the dwindling species. But panthers still have a long way to go before the endangered species label can be completely removed. Until that happens the FWC will keep focusing on the panther population, protecting it, managing it and educating the public about this magnificent animal.