The story of the Florida panther is one of near extinction, followed by a dramatic rebound and a shaky status quo. According to wildlife photographer Carlton Ward Jr., who took this stunning photo, evidence suggests that at one point, there might have been as few as 10 panthers left in the wild, while estimates today put the population between 120 and 230. The biggest threat to the species’ survival is habitat loss: Because of development, panthers occupy less than 5 percent of their original territory.
Last year, the Florida Legislature approved the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which directs the state to procure parcels of land that connect existing preserves and allow panthers to range across the state. Ward uses his photography to document the panther’s plight, and recently produced a film, Path of the Panther, that showcases the importance of wildlife corridors. “There is still enough habitat for the panther to recover,” says Ward, “but with so many of the farms and ranches being converted into developments, it’s a race against time.”