February 21, 2024

Southwest Florida Roundup

Crossroads: Florida's panther population stabilizes

Amy Martinez | 2/27/2017

Panthers once freely roamed the South from Texas to the Atlantic Coast. Habitat loss and disease landed the animal on the federal endangered species list in 1967, and eventually only about 20 animals remained in Florida in the southwest part of the state.

Inbreeding produced so many heart defects and infertility among that population that in the 1990s scientists predicted the panther would become extinct within 40 years.

In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an experiment to diversify the animal’s gene pool by importing eight female cougars, closely related genetically to the panthers, from a population in Texas. The Texas cats bred successfully with the Florida natives, and the state’s panther population has since grown to about 100 to 180 panthers in the wild, most in Collier, Hendry and Lee counties.

Some have taken steps to assure that the cats will continue to have a habitat: Two years ago, Black Boar Ranch, a hunting preserve near LaBelle, inked a deal with the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Nature Conservancy to set aside land as a panther habitat at the northern edge of the animal’s current range, enabling it to stake out new territory north of the Caloosahatchee River, a longtime breeding barrier.

Last fall, state wildlife officials discovered evidence that a female panther had finally crossed the river — a positive sign for the species’ long-term survival, says Darrell Land, state panther team leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Naples.

It’s questionable, however, how much more the state’s panther population can grow. In recent years deaths from various causes, including collisions with cars and trucks, have more or less offset known panther births. In 2016, 34 panthers were killed along Florida roads, accounting for 81% of all panther deaths, up from 30 in 2015 and 25 in 2014.

Meanwhile, the estimate of panthers living in Florida has changed little over the past decade.

“It’s a simple numbers game,” Land says. “As more and more people move to Florida, more panthers will encounter vehicles on the road.”


Business Briefs

ELLENTON — Feld Entertainment’s Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus will stage its final performances in May, ending a 146-year run.

LAKEWOOD RANCH —Tampa- based developer Harrod Properties bought 85 acres for $3.5 million to build up to 700,000 square feet of industrial space. » Roper Technologies acquired Deltek, a software company, for $2.8 billion. » The Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch will undergo a $6-million renovation and be converted to an Even Hotel, a new InterContinental Hotels brand focused on health and wellness.

NAPLES — Electronic payment company ACI Worldwide is spending $1.5 million to expand its Naples headquarters.

SARASOTA — Torontobased investment firm Agellan Capital Partners paid Tampa’s Meridian Development about $51 million for a 907,237-sq.- ft. Distribution center on 50 acres in Sarasota.

ST. PETERSBURG — Investment firm Platinum Equitybought Cox Target Media, the parent company of Valpak. Terms were not disclosed. Valpak operates a $220-million printing facility in St. Petersburg.

TAMPA — North Carolina staffing and consulting agency BlueLine Associates will move its headquarters to Tampa, creating 150 jobs. » Beverage producer and distributor Cott plans to add 60 jobs and invest $800,000 in an expansion of its local headquarters. » Health care technology company CareSync plans to hire 350 at its new Tampa headquarters by the end of this year. » Government contractor Lukos is adding 10 technical and senior-level jobs and is moving to a new headquarters in Tampa. » Iron Bow Technologies of Chantilly, Va., opened a customer service center in Tampa, creating about 170 jobs. » Mortgage banking company Walter Investment Management sold its insurance business to Assurant for $125 million.

» Bethesda, Md.-based Host Hotels & Resorts bought the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach. Davidson Hotels and Resorts will manage the historic 277-room hotel. Prudential Insurance had been the majority owner for more than 12 years.


Seed Money for Startups

Last November, the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded 35 organizations nationwide a total of nearly $15 million to fund early-stage companies. The University of South Florida, the state’s sole recipient, got $250,000 to create a $5-million seed fund aimed at retaining promising, tech-oriented startups in the Tampa Bay area. USF will launch Seed Tampa Bay in partnership with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and law firm Squire Patten Boggs; Florida Funders, an angel investor network, will provide strategic advice.

“While the Tampa Bay region is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, its entrepreneurial ecosystem lags behind other cities in providing funding at the earliest stage of investment,” says Paul Sanberg, USF senior vice president for research, innovation and economic development. Officials hope to eventually grow Seed Tampa Bay to $10 million.

- Paul Sanberg


» Carmen Bauza, previously senior vice president of Walmart’s consumables, health and wellness merchandising division, became chief merchandising officer at HSN in St. Petersburg.

» BayCare Health System in Clearwater named Teri Sholder senior vice president and chief quality officer. Sholder formerly was with Kettering Health Network in Ohio.

» Gavin Southwell replaced Patrick McNamee as CEO of Health Insurance Innovations in Tampa.

» Bill Law will resign as president of St. Petersburg College in July. He became the school’s sixth president in 2010 after leading Tallahassee Community College.

-Carmen Bauza

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