Catching a glimpse of a Florida panther in the wild is a rare experience. So, how does one react when they spot four of the elusive, endangered animals at the same time? “I physically was shaking. I was so excited,” amateur wildlife photographer Ezra Van tells WFOR. Van was at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in South Florida earlier this year when he saw the stunning sight. He was leaving the park and spotted one panther hanging out near a vulture. As he was taking pictures, another walked up—then another, and another. They stalked the vulture for a bit, and then let it go, he tells WFOR (see video here). “They hung out in the grass for little while, one of them looked over and meowed at me and they hung out for a few minutes then walked off,” he says.
Florida panthers—Florida’s state animal—live only in South Florida, and estimates put their adult population at just 120 to 230, according to the News-Press. One of the animal’s biggest threats is being struck by vehicles—last month a panther was hit and killed by a car, the fourth fatal collision so far this year, per WFLA. Speaking to WFOR, conservationist “Alligator” Ron Bergeron says that the fact that Van saw four panthers (likely a female and three cubs) at one time is a testament to conservation efforts over the last several decades. “That’s very incredible … if you go back to 1981, our estimates on panthers were 20-30 panthers across all of the Everglades,” he says. “Tremendous success story on one of the most endangered species on the planet.” (Read more florida stories.)