The Florida Panther (Puma concolor cougar) is a subspecies of cougar and is Florida’s beloved state animal. There are only about 200 of these criticaly endangered species left in the wild that number has been on the rise.
The Florida Panther (Puma concolor cougar) is a subspecies of cougar and is Florida’s beloved state animal. These native big cats reside in the swamps and forests of southern Florida but are unfortunately listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). There are only about 200 individuals left in the wild population, however that number is up from back in the 1970’s when there were only estimated to be about 20 panthers remaining. Many of their issues are present because of this small genetic pool. Inbreeding depression has largely occurred in these animals and has resulted in cowlicks, kinked tails, and overall decreased fitness. Genetic diversity in the Florida panther is lower than that of any other puma species.
This south Florida population of panthers is the only cougar representative in the Eastern United States, so it’s quite obvious their sustenance is extremely important. The main factors threatening this big cat are largely due to the ever-growing number of people in the state. More humans means more space needing to be taken up, more roads and highways being built, and more panther habitat being destroyed. It’s estimated that one breeding unit (a male and 2-5 females) requires a 200 square mile range. Their wide-ranging nature has been condensed to a very small portion of Florida, which also contributes to their tiny, isolated population of inbreeding individuals. Habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation due to humans, results in inadequate territory, hunting range, and female den space. The two highest causes of mortality are automobile collisions and territorial aggression between panthers, both directly related to human encroachment. In addition, they suffer from poaching threats and wildlife control measures.
This subspecies has a long road before they’ll be taken off the Critically Endangered status, but all hope is not lost! Habitat conservation is the most valuable way we can help save these powerful and magnificent Florida Panthers. They rely on many different types of habitat throughout the day, moving between hardwood hammock forest, cypress swamp, and grassland prairies, just to name a few. Better land management and more in-depth studies of the panther’s critical habitat is necessary to make sure property developers are not further encroaching on the space they need to thrive. Fortunately, conservation centers and wildlife sanctuaries, like White Oak in Yulee, Florida, help immensely by taking injured or orphaned panthers and rehabilitating them back to health until they are able to be reintroduced into the wild. Just recently, White Oak Conservation Foundation and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) had their first successful reintroduction of a whole family of Florida panthers (a female and her kittens). The mother had been struck by a vehicle and all 3 were transferred for rehabilitation at White Oak before being released back into their home territory in April 2018. They have been collared and will be monitored by FWC for survival information and dispersal times for the kittens.
Photo Credit: Florida Panther Kitten" by Larry Allan
Panther and Kitten photo: Worldanimalnews.com