After 20 years he finally got the perfect shot of the elusive Florida panther

20 years. That’s how long it took animal photographer Carlton Ward Jr to capture this incredible image of a Florida panther which is a rare and fierce sub-species of cougar. This unforgettable encounter resulted in a memorable photo that reminds us that these big cats are in danger all over the world.

In a long interview with National Geographic, the animal photographer Carlton Ward Jr. revealed the adventure of a lifetime, in which he managed to photograph a Florida panther in its natural habitat.

The search of a lifetime

And after a long search that lasted two decades, the amazing photo was finally taken. Fascinated by the flora and fauna of the Florida state, the American photographerknew this region like the back of his hand, but this was the only time that he managed to meet this big cat that is as elusive as it is fierce.

And yet, he spent many years exploring all corners of thewilderness in Florida, by advocating for the Florida Wildlife Corridor programme, which works to protect much of the southern state to preserve the fragile flora and fauna of the region.

His main objective

For two years, Carlton Ward Jr. decided to focus exclusively on researching theFlorida panther, the last big cat in the United States and a sub-species of the famous cougar.

Nowadays, scientists believe there are no more than two hundred left in the wild, which is good news because at the beginning of the 90s it was estimated that there were only 30 of these predators left. They mainly live in the most remote areas of the Everglades National Park.

A species in danger

But the Florida panther isn’t in the clear yet, since naturalists estimate that their current population would need to triple for this big cat to have a sustainable future. However, the future seems quite bleak for this mysterious animal.

By 2070, experts estimate that Florida will have lost around 2 million hectares of forest, plains and grassland, due to an explosion in the Earth’s population.

The Florida panther is a particularly secretive species. It is mainly active during the night and stays mostly in thick, inextricable vegetation. Only one adult male can reign in a territory of almost 52,000 hectares.

Profession: animal photographer

To be able to photograph this species, Carlton Ward Jr. had to first rely on hidden cameras in the forests, which are automatically triggered when an animal passes through its infrared rays. The unique photo from the animal reporter was taken in the middle of the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, an area preserved by forest and humid areas.

While he was on his way to his hidden cameras, Carlton came across the panther, calmly sitting around two hundred meters from him. The photographer, being in his car, took his photos from the window of his vehicle, using his 400mm telephoto lens as well as a 1.4 booster.

With his camera on silent mode, the photographer waited until the panther approached his vehicle a little, which it did. The feline came and sat around 20 metres from the vehicle, meaning the Ward Jr could finally get the perfect shots he had been waiting so long for.

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