Endangered Florida Panther Finds New Home at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
USFWS Ken Warren, (772) 469-4323
TLPZ Andrea Alava, (813) 935-8552
February 13, 2017
Photo credit: TLPZ
VERO BEACH, Fla. (February 13, 2017) -- Federal and state wildlife officials found permanent safe haven for a two-year-old Florida panther at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. The endangered panther is no longer considered viable for release to the wild due to its behavior: He was captured and removed twice from nearby residential areas because he was preying upon pets--putting himself, the public and their pets at risk.
Officials with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) first captured the panther on April 12, 2016, following several unexpected direct encounters between the panther and residents at the Farm Workers Village neighborhood, near Immokalee in Collier County where pets and feral cats in the neighborhood had frequently been preyed upon by the panther.
In addition, the specific layout of thick vegetation in and around Farm Workers Village made it an area where the panther could easily hide in close proximity to the homes. Based on those factors, in accordance with the Interagency Florida Panther Response Plan (IFPRP), a joint federal/state team decided to remove and relocate the panther as a safety precaution and as a form of aversive conditioning intended to change its behavior.
Once captured, FWC staff transported the panther to experts at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, where it received multiple health assessments primarily to ensure that it did not test positive for the feline leukemia virus, a contagious disease carried by domestic cats that can be fatal to panthers. Zoo veterinary professionals gave the panther a clean bill of health, and officials released the animal to the Big Cypress National Preserve in late May.
In early July, the panther entered the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation community, some 40 miles away from his release site. Once there, it began exhibiting a similar pattern of behavior, including preying on domestic pets and frequenting residential areas.
In light of those repeated depredation events and the fact that the previous capture and relocation did not alter the panther’s behavior, the Interagency Florida Panther Response Team decided that this panther posed a public safety concern and should be permanently removed from the wild.
“Although this panther never displayed aggressive behavior towards humans, the pattern of behavior was concerning enough that we decided to remove it as a proactive response to the risks posed to residents,” said David Shindle, USFWS Florida Panther Coordinator.
The permanent removal of panthers from the wild that pose a demonstrable threat to human safety is consistent with the IFPRP and the Endangered Species Act. In some extreme circumstances, or if an approved captive management facility cannot be found, euthanasia may be necessary.
After consulting with the Tribe and securing approval to remove the panther, it was captured on July 21 and transported by USFWS staff to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo to await permanent placement in an approved captive management facility.
“As soon as we heard he could not be released again, we started looking at our own capacity and that of our partners to see who might be able to take this animal in,” said Dr. Ray Ball, Senior Veterinarian at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
After weighing the options carefully, the zoo made the decision to house the panther, named “Micanopy,” on-site. But this all hinged on one thing--how Micanopy got along with Lucy, a resident Florida panther already living at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
In December, following an additional round of check-ups, zoo staff began the process of introducing the two animals. The introductions went well, and the two panthers are now sharing the same habitat and can be seen by zoo visitors along with other native Florida wildlife.
“We are happy to have made a difference in the life of this animal, and we stand ready to assist USFWS and FWC with any future panther-related needs,” said Dr. Ball. “The Florida panther is more than an important symbol for the state, it is an integral species in our native ecosystem that our zoo is dedicated to protecting.”
“This has been a joint effort and the interagency team would like to thank Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the Seminole Tribe for being great partners with us on this initiative,” said Shindle.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.