FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2002
A rare event in the population of the endangered Florida Panther at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) has occurred. Two litters from two female panthers were simultaneously recorded on the refuge near Naples, Florida. This year's births are a highlight for the refuge in the recovery of the imperiled cousin of the mountain lion or cougar. Only 80 to 100 Florida panthers remain in the wild making Florida's official state animal one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
"We're also pleasantly surprised about the size of the litters," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "The dens produced three kittens in one litter and four in the other.
There are many reasons for the demise of the animal's population. Because of unfounded fears for livestock and human safety, bounties were placed on the cats from the late 1800's through the 1950's, greatly diminishing their numbers. However, today other factors threaten the species recovery.
"Car collisions have killed over 44 panthers since 1972," said Ben Nottingham, Deputy Refuge Manager from the Florida Panther NWR. "Also, aggression among the male cats has caused other deaths. However, the biggest cause of diminished numbers is loss of habitat."
Hamilton added, "The panther deaths from car collisions can be greatly reduced if people will share a little of their time with the animals and slow down to the posted speed limits."
The extensive development over the last few decades has greatly reduced the panther's preferred habitat of hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods as well as wet prairies, marshes and swamp forests.
Florida panthers are most active at night and usually avoid one another except during breeding season. Adult males defend territories averaging 200 miles while females have territories of 75 square miles. Kittens weigh around a pound and are born with their eyes closed. Their mother nurses them for about 2 months until they are able to eat fresh meat.
Florida panthers, like all cougars, stalk and ambush their prey. They leap distances of more than 15 feet and rely on surprise. The cats run up to 35 miles an hour for short distances. Panthers prefer large animals such as deer and wild pigs but will eat smaller game such as raccoons, armadillos, rabbits and even alligators.
While the Florida panther appears similar to other cougars, it is distinctly different. Its fur is darker, shorter, and coarser. Although, the Florida panther has a smaller body size and feet than its cousins, it has longer legs. Other differences are found in skull size measurements, a distinctive cowlick in the middle of the back, and a right-angle crook at the end of the tail.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is actively working with a number of federal and state agencies such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as well as private organizations to save the Florida panther from extinction and develop healthy populations free of several genetic problems that have shown up over the years.
For more information about:
Florida panther visit our website at http://endangered.fws.gov/i/A05.html
Florida panther National Wildlife Refuge at http://floridapanther.fws.gov/index.html
The Fish and Wildlife Service in the southeast: http://southeast.fws.govThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.
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