U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Southeast Region News Release

April 16, 1996                          Diana M. Hawkins, 404-679-7293



WHO: U.S. Fish and Wildife Biologist, Larry Richardson, of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Naples, Florida, a live Florida panther, and TBS's Captain Planet.

WHAT: Mr. Richardson and Captain Planet will make a one-hour presentation on the subject of Earth Day, before a group of approximately 1000 middle school students. The purpose of Earth Day is to educate the public about the value of preserving nature's biodiversity and the planet's endangered species.

WHERE: West Hall Middle School. (Go north on I-85, exit onto I-985 just north of Suwanee. Take exit 4 off I-985 onto Mundy Mill Road. Proceed to end of road and take a left onto McEver Road. School is on the right, 2-3 miles down the road. Next to high school.) POC: Jackie Stewart, 770-967-4871.

WHEN: 1:00 p.m., Monday, April 22, 1996

This event has been organized in connection with the 1996 Earth Day Expo, sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves, that is taking place during the Atlanta Braves/Los Angeles Dodgers game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium at 7:40 p.m. Monday, April 22, 1996.

Captain Planet and Service biologist Larry Richardson will visit the school to make a brief presentation to the students on the purpose of Earth Day and how young people can do their part to help conserve the Earth's natural resources. Larry Richardson will briefly discuss the Florida panther and other endangered species. A major part of the program is devoted to answering the children's questions.

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Attached is added information about the endangered Florida panther.


The Florida panther is a large, long-tailed cat with a great deal of color variation: pale brown or rusty upper parts, dull white or buffy under parts; tail tip, back of ears, and sides of nose are dark brown or blackish. Mature male panthers examined in the wild in Florida since 1978 have weighed from 1O2 to 154 pounds and measured nearly 7 feet from nose to tip of tail. Females were considerably smaller, with a weight range of 50 to 1O8 pounds and measuring about 6 feet.

FEEDING HABITS: Preliminary analyses of panther diets in the southwest Florida study area indicate that panthers subsist on a variety of mammalian prey dominated by white-tailed deer, wild hog, and in some areas, raccoon. Analysis of 83 scats and 22 kills since 1986 indicate a difference in food habits between the north and south portions of the study area. Deer and hogs accounted for 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the south, and 23 percent and 63 percent, respectively, in the north. Occurrence of small prey appeared similar between areas.

REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Only preliminary data is available on Florida panther reproduction. Existing data indicates that breeding may occur throughout the year with a peak in the winter/spring period, a gestation period of around 9O to 95 days, litter sizes of 1 to 4 kittens, and a breeding cycle of 2 years for females successfully raising young to dispersal, which occurs around 18 to 24 months. A female has successfully reproduced at 22 to 23 months, and a male has possessed fertile sperm and exhibited reproduction at 26 to 3O months. Male panthers examined to date exhibit an exceedingly high proportion of abnormal sperm forms (more than 9O percent), with the major defect involving the head of the spermatozoa. In addition, in 12 of 27 males (44 percent) examined between 1981 and 1990, one testicle does not descend properly into the scrotum. As of June 1993, sixty-five percent (11 of 17) of living males had this condition. Concern over this condition heightened in 1992, when 2 male kittens were found with neither testicle descended, rendering them functionally sterile.

As part of a genetic preservation effort, a sperm bank was established in 1988 to freeze-store semen collected from free-ranging males.

RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: The historic range included eastern Texas or western Louisiana and the lower Mississippi River valley east through the Southeastern States in general (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina). Even though numerous sighting reports continue to surface annually throughout its historic range, it is unlikely that viable populations of the Florida panther presently occur outside Florida. The only known self-sustaining population occurs in south Florida, generally within the Big Cypress Swamp physiographic region and centered in Collier and Hendry Counties. Within the last decade, radio-instrumented panthers have also utilized habitats in Broward, Dade, Glades, Highlands, Lee, and Monroe Counties. Scattered verified sign has been documented (late 198O's) along the St. Johns River drainage from northern Okeechobee County north to southern Putnam County. Currently, the wild population is estimated to be comprised of 3O to 5O adult animals.

HABITAT: In general, panther population centers appear to indicate a preference toward large remote tracts with adequate prey, cover, and reduced levels of disturbance. A telemetry study on the Florida panther was initiated in south Florida by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in 1981. This initial study has since been expanded by the Commission, and the National Park Service initiated additional studies in 1986. One of the goals of these telemetry projects is to learn more about panther habitat. As of June 1993, data had been gathered from 54 radio-instrumented panthers. Data from panthers monitored by the Commission in southwest Florida since 1985 indicate that, overall, habitat use is highly diverse and varies from north to south. Diversity of habitats used by panthers is greater in northern parts of the study area and dominated by uplands (hardwood hammocks, low pinelands, and palm forests). Lower diversity and predominately wetland habitat use are characteristic of southern areas (mixed swamp and cypress swamp). Appropriate cover is an important component of habitats used, especially during hunting, denning, and day-bedding. Saw palmetto was the dominant cover in 72 percent of observed day bedding sites.

Annual home-range sizes of 26 instrumented panthers monitored in southwest Florida varied from 20 to 457 square miles. Home ranges averaged 200 square miles for resident adult males, 75 square miles for adult females, 241 square miles for transient males, and 69 square miles for subadult.

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: The initial recovery plan was prepared by the Florida Panther Recovery Team and was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service on December 17, 1981. This plan was revised by the Florida Panther Interagency Committee's Technical Subcommittee and approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service on June 22, 1987. The recovery objective, as presented in the revised plan, is to achieve three viable, self-sustaining populations within the historic range of the panther. This is to be accomplished through three principal sub-objectives:

Implementation of many of the recovery plan's tasks is presently underway. Some tasks have already been completed. Ongoing recovery actions primarily focus on protecting and enhancing the existing wild population, developing and implementing genetic management strategies (which includes the management of a captive breeding population), and locating candidate reintroduction sites and developing reintroduction technologies that will lead to successful population reestablishment programs in other historic range areas. A Habitat Preservation Plan for panther habitat in south Florida was completed in July 1993. A rangewide candidate reintroduction site identification and evaluation project is underway and should be completed during 1993. Genetic restoration strategies presently under consideration include a program to reinstitute gene flow into the panther from an adjoining subspecies, as occurred naturally prior to isolation. The primary thrust of the recovery effort is being generated through the Florida Panther Interagency Committee. This Committee was organized in 1986 to ensure that the principal agencies assigned lead roles in recovery implementation (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, and Florida Department of Natural Resources) initiate and implement all recovery activities in a cooperative and coordinated manner.

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1996 News Releases

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