Spotting and Protecting Endangered Species Near and Far in Florida
You Don’t Have to Go Far to Discover a Piece of Wild Florida
Florida’s peninsular landscape bustles with diverse wildlife and fauna who all live and thrive in different ecosystems. You can walk, hike or bike countless trails across the state to catch a glimpse of and even interact with these species.
Sadly, there’s quite an extensive list of endangered species in Florida, and some of them are becoming harder and harder to spot on a whim. If you want to see an endangered animal or snap a photo of one, you may have to make a plan to find that animal out in the wild.
There are currently 50 federally designated endangered species in Florida, but we’ve highlighted only three of them and where you can find them when you’re discovering and exploring the Sunshine State.
The Florida Panther is Florida’s official state animal, and it’s also one of the most endangered mammals on Earth. These panthers used to roam the woodlands and swamps in the Southeast, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. When the Europeans sailed over and settled in the 1600s, they slowly started to wipe them out.
Now, their population is an estimated 100-180 adults in south Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. Right now, this is the only known breeding population. However, if you’re camping or hiking in central or northeast Florida, you may get lucky and spot one. According to reports, they started roaming north recently as far as Georgia.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The leatherback sea turtle, named because of its tough, rubbery shell, almost exclusively nests on the East Coast in Florida. Only a very small portion of the turtles nests on the West Coast. Unfortunately, they’re listed as an endangered species, and there are about 20,000 to 30,000 nesting females.
This unique reptile is the only sea turtle that doesn’t have a hard shell, and it’s also the largest sea turtle weighing up to a ton and reaching 8 feet in length. If you’re ambitious and want to spot a leatherback turtle, your best bet is Palm Beach County. Nesting season happens from March to July and almost 50 percent of leatherback turtles nest in this area.
The Key Deer is only found in the Florida Keys—a string of islands stretching about 120 miles from the tip of Florida. Poaching and habitat loss reduced the deer to only a few dozen in the 1950s. In 1967, the National Key Deer Refuge was established and helped raise that number to a few thousand today.
If you’re looking to interact with one of these deer, make a trip to Big Pine Key or No Name Keys. Seventy five percent of them live on these keys, and the other 25 percent inhabit across more than 20 other keys.
These deer are smaller than the average deer—the largest male is about three feet at the shoulder, and over the years, they’ve even become quite friendly. Tourists and residents feeding the deer has conditioned many of them to approach people looking for food. But to maintain a healthy deer population, they should not be fed.
Florida can heal a bad case of wanderlust or even satisfy the curious mind with its vast and diverse species and activities. Look no further and discover Florida.