Already, the public's willingness to report where they see panthers and black bears in Florida is having a positive impact on what is known about where these large mammals live and reproduce in the state.
Based on two years of online public reporting of panther sightings and nearly one year of online reports of bear sightings, biologists know more about what areas of Florida provide viable habitat for these species.
A total of 1,537 Florida panther sightings were reported as of June 2014, of which 275 have been verified as panthers based on photos of the animal or its footprints. This includes the first verification of a panther sighted near the Green Swamp north of Interstate 4 in central Florida. Primarily, the verified panther sightings are in southwest Florida.
There also were a total of 2,257 Florida black bear sighting reports as of June 2014, with more than 500 of those reports containing uploaded photographs. Sightings of bears were reported in 59 of the state's 67 counties.
The FWC continues collection of panther sightings at www.MyFWC.com/PantherSightings, and bear sightings at www.MyFWC.com/BearSightings. Here people can find information about the animals, including how to identify them, what to do or not do if they see one, and a Google map making it easy to pinpoint the sighting location.
"Someone's excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC," said Carol Knox, the FWC's Imperiled Species Management section leader. "The FWC is pleased that so many people are making the effort to be citizen scientists and sharing their sightings of panthers and bears. By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida's largest land mammals."
Soon, cooler weather will be on the way and more people will be resuming their outdoor pursuits.
"We hope people going outdoors to hunt, hike or pursue other recreational activities remember to share their bear sightings with us, particularly if it is a mother bear with cubs," said FWC bear biologist Brian Scheick.
For a list of the many FWC wildlife sightings, surveys and hotlines in which citizen scientists are invited to participate, go to www.MyFWC.com/get-involved/citizen-science/.
Learn more about panthers at www.FloridaPantherNet.org and more about bears at www.MyFWC.com/Bear.