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Florida Panther

Puma concolor coryi
Panther - Profile

The Florida panther is the last subspecies of Puma concolor (also known as mountain lion, cougar, or puma) still surviving in the eastern U.S. The breeding segment of the Florida panther population is currently restricted to south of the Caloosahatchee River in south Florida. Recovery efforts to date have successfully contributed to a significant increase in the panther population and panthers now occupy most available habitat south the Caloosahatchee River. Although no evidence of a female panthers or reproduction has been documented north of the Caloosahatchee River since 1973, male panthers continue to disperse north of the river and have been confirmed as far north as Georgia.

Under the current Recovery Plan, established in 2008, the Service will consider delisting the panther when three populations of at least 240 individuals (excluding dependent-aged kittens) each have been established and sufficient habitat to support these populations is secured in the long-term. These recovery goals cannot be met without establishing additional populations outside of South Florida, requiring support from private landowners. In 2013, the Service formed a Florida Panther Recovery Implementation Team, consisting of members representing the Service, National Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and other stakeholders, with a mandate to facilitate those recovery activities most needed to achieve the recovery goals identified in the 2008 Recovery Plan.
  

FP116's kittens D Shindle-FWC - 512x318
Florida panther kittens have blue eyes, and a spotted coat. which helps to camouflage them better from potential predators. 
Description – An adult Florida panther is unspotted and typically tan in overall coloration but may be darker brown to rust-colored along the midline of the back. The underside is dull white or buff-colored. Whereas the tip of the tail, back of the ears, and sides of the muzzle are blackish, there has never been a melanistic (black) puma documented in North America or South America. Florida panther kittens are gray with dark brown or blackish spots and five bands around the tail. The spots gradually fade as the kittens grow older and are almost unnoticeable by the time they are six months old. Mature male panthers examined in the wild in Florida since 1978 have weighed from 102 to 160 pounds and measured nearly seven-feet from nose to the tip of the tail. Females were considerably smaller, with a weight range of 50 to 115 pounds and measuring about six feet. Panthers are wide ranging, secretive, and occur at low densities. 

Habitat – Panthers require large contiguous areas to meet their social, reproductive, and energetic needs. Panther habitat selection is related to prey availability (i.e., habitats that make prey vulnerable to stalking and capturing are selected). Dense understory vegetation provides some of the most important feeding, resting, and denning cover for panthers. Telemetry monitoring and ground tracking indicate that panthers select forested habitats, marsh shrub swamps, and prairie grasslands with agricultural lands and other habitat types used in proportion to their availability.

Panther Human Interactions – As the population increases, range expands and more people move to Florida, there have been more panther human interactions including depredations on pets and hobby livestock in Southwest Florida and on calves on the vast cattle ranches north of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Park Service operate under an inter-agency response plan that investigates and responds to panther human interaction and provides advice to the public on how to minimize the potential risks.

If you do encounter a panther, never approach and back away slowly and remain eye contact with the animal at all times. Here are some other helpful safety tips while in panther territory.

Always call The Florida Wildlife Hotline 888-404-FWCC(3922) to report any encounter as quickly as possible.

History – In 1967, the Department of the Interior listed the Florida panther as an endangered subspecies. Since then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with the State of Florida, as well as Federal agencies and private partners to make significant progress toward Florida panther recovery. Historically occurring throughout the southeastern United States, today the panther is restricted to less than five percent of its historic range in a single breeding population in southern Florida. The panther population in south Florida has increased in size from approximately 20 adults in the early 1970s to approximately 180 adults and subadults after 2012. However, the panther continues to face numerous threats due to an increasing human population and development in panther habitat that negatively impacts recovery.

More than a century ago, natural genetic exchange occurred between the Florida panther and other contiguous populations of Puma concolor. This exchange, known as gene flow, occurred as individuals dispersed among populations and bred. Gene flow helped maintain a genetic variation and healthy population of Florida panthers by reducing the probability of inbreeding.

However, beginning with early European colonization and continuing through the 19th Century, the panther population began to decline and became geographically isolated from other puma populations, eliminating gene flow. The lack of gene flow and small population size accelerated the rate of inbreeding, resulting in genetic depression, declining health, and reduced survival rates.

If action was not taken to address the loss of gene flow, scientists feared that this “genetic bottleneck” would lead to the eventual extinction of the Florida panther. Between 1991 and 1994, biologists convened three workshops to discuss the genetic health of the Florida panther population. Experts in the fields of genetics, conservation biology, captive breeding, and panther biology participated. Scientists concluded that some means of restoring a level of gene flow was critical to improving the genetic health to the Florida panther and its long term outlook for recovery.

A genetic restoration plan was implemented in 1995 with the release of eight female pumas from Texas into Florida panther habitat in southern Florida. Texas pumas (P. c. stanleyana) were the closest extant puma population to Florida and the intent of this plan was to mimic the gene flow that historically occurred between these subspecies. Five of the eight Texas pumas produced a total of at least 20 kittens. None of the original eight Texas pumas remain in the wild population today; five died from various causes and the remaining three were removed from the wild and placed in captivity after they produced a sufficient number of offspring. The results of the genetic restoration project have been successful as indicated by a substantial increase in panther abundance and the overall health of individuals in the population.

Recovery – The recovery goal is to achieve viability of the Florida panther to a point where it can be reclassified from endangered to threatened, and then removed from the Federal list of endangered and threatened species. The current Recovery Plan establishes that the Service will consider delisting the panther when 3 populations of at least 240 individuals each (excluding dependent-aged kittens) have been established and sufficient habitat to support these populations is secured.

The panther depends upon habitat of sufficient quantity, quality, and spatial configuration for long-term persistence. Range expansion and reintroduction of additional populations are recognized as essential for recovery. Similarly, fostering greater public understanding and support is necessary to achieve panther conservation and recovery. Potential panther habitat throughout the Southeast continues to be affected by urbanization, residential development, road construction, conversion to agriculture, as well as mining and mineral exploration. Land use planning that takes into account the habitat requirements of Florida panthers continues to be a challenge for recovery. Additionally, panther mortality resulting from vehicle collisions threatens the potential for population expansion. Public support and developing incentives for private landowners that retain and manage panther habitat are both critical to achieve recovery. Political and social issues will invariably be some of the most challenging aspects of panther recovery.

Make A Difference – A fund was established by The Wildlife Foundation of Florida to aid in the recovery of injured or orphaned Florida panthers as well as other panther conservation needs. The Florida Panther Fund is an important resource that will give the FWC flexibility to deal with rare, unplanned, and non-budgeted events.

In addition, Florida panther research and management conducted by FWC is funded through the Florida Panther Research and Management Trust Fund (FPRMTF). This fund receives its monies from the purchase and annual renewal of the “Protect the Panther” specialty license plate. Tag holders give an annual $25.00 donation into the FPRMTF. Visit the “Protect the Panther” license plate website to learn more about purchasing this. 

Panther in water FWC - 511x274
Florida panther wearing a radio collar for tracking and monitoring.
 

Facts About Florida Panther

Name: Florida Panther

Scientific Name: Puma concolor coryi

Taxa: Mammal

Breeding Range: South Florida

Status: Endangered
Page Photo Credits — Florida panther - © Larry W. Richardson, Florida panther kittens - David Shindle/FWC, Radio collared panther in water - FWC
Last Updated: Feb 02, 2016
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