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MIAMI (Reuters Life!) - If attacked by an endangered Florida panther, stand tall and fight back -- that's the advice wildlife officials are giving after a series of recent panther attacks on domestic animals in the southeast U.S. state.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said on Monday that panthers, which are protected under both state and federal laws, had killed several goats and a pig in at least six "depredations" since the beginning of December.
"If you encounter a Florida panther, the FWC recommends: Avoid crouching or bending down; Do not run or turn away from the panther; Stand up tall and face the animal; Make eye contact; Do whatever you can to appear larger; and Fight back if attacked", the commission statement said.
"We're trying to advise the public to be the dominant person ... that's the bottom line," FWC spokesperson Gabriella Ferraro told Reuters.
For the more faint-hearted who may not relish the idea of grappling with a Florida panther -- full-grown males can stand up to 28 inches high at the shoulder and weigh up to 160 pounds (72 kg) -- the FWC gives the following more reassuring information on its web site: "Panthers eat deer, not people. Panthers are shy and avoid people"
"There's never been an attack by a panther on a human being in the state of Florida, that we're aware of," Ferraro said.
Pets and farm animals are not so lucky, however, and the FWC recommends keeping livestock such as chickens, goats and hogs in enclosed structures at night. Cats and small dogs should be kept indoors, particularly at night, it adds.
Florida panthers, which can be smaller than their western cousin, the cougar, have been listed as endangered since 1967. The panther population declined to about 30 cats by the early 1980s but has recovered to at least 100 panthers today.
"There are more panthers that live in the wild now than there were a few decades ago, and the odds of seeing one or coming close to one are more possible now than they were before ... our priority is public and human safety," Ferraro said.
Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Greg McCune