MIAMI (CBSMiami) — What a stroke of luck to get a glimpse of a Florida Panther in the wild, but how about seeing four more, all at the same time.
“I physically was shaking! I was so excited,” said Ezra Van.
He heads out to the Everglades at least once a week because wildlife photography is a hobby.
In all his years, he never saw what he found at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in January.
It happened just when he was leaving and saw a panther hanging out with a vulture.
“(I) start taking pictures and another panther walks up and they both start playing with it. And anther panther walks up and then all three of them are toying around with it. Then a fourth panther walks up,” he said.
Van says the panthers stalked that vulture a little while longer and eventually let it go.
“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 said.
Endangered Florida panthers are extremely shy and elusive so being able to see so many at one time is unheard of.
“Looking at the video it looked like to me, a female panther with 3 cubs. These cubs will stay with their mother for about 2 years,” said Alligator Ron Bergeron. He’s known as the Mayor of the Everglades. He has many titles – Everglades conservationist is one.
“That’s very incredible and that has a lot to do, if you go back to 1981, our estimates on panthers were 20-30 panthers across all of the Everglades,” Alligator Ron said.
WATCH: Raw video of the Florida Panthers in the wild
He said seeing those four panthers together could only happen after years of hard work to save the endangered animal.
“We put together a panther team to study it and today we estimate we now have somewhere around 180 to 230 panthers across the beautiful Everglades. Tremendous success story on one of the most endangered species on the planet,” he said.
Alligator Ron says while the population is growing, there’s still more to do to ensure a bright future for the Florida icon, which is also the official state animal of Florida.
“It’s biggest enemy is loss of habitats and collisions with cars,” Alligator Ron said. “More crossings under our roads are extremely important to avoid collisions with panthers.”
“The panthers are a Florida treasure,” Van said, “And appreciating nature and everything that lives in it, including the panthers, is really key to why all of us live in Florida.”
Click here for more about the Florida Panther.