Record Number of Florida Panthers Hit by Vehicles in 2009

At this point, it's probably optimistic to say there are more than 100 Florida panthers left in the wild. Especially considering as many as 17 of them were killed by drivers last year, according to the Defenders of Wildlife. That eclipses 2007's record of 15.

The 16th dead panther was found December 29 alongside State Road 29 in Collier County. The road borders a protected panther habitat and has seen increased use thanks to the development of nearby Ave Maria -- an under-construction community in Naples that will feature a Catholic university. The development was criticized by environmentalists, who said the land was prime breeding territory for panthers.

A possible 17th vehicle-caused panther death in October is under investigation.

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Kyle Munzenrieder