FWC reports encouraging news for Florida panthers
Monday, April 19, 2010
Media contact: Gabriella Ferraro, 772-215-9459; Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130
With spring in full bloom, some positive signs have
emerged about Florida's endangered panther. Biologists with the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Big
Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) have been busy documenting active
Florida panther dens filled with kittens.
A total of four dens, with three kittens apiece,
have been documented so far in 2010. These particular dens were
found in palmetto thickets in Picayune Strand State Forest and BCNP
in Collier County. The births are significant because they
offset panther deaths and hopefully mean the population will
continue to grow. The panthers' numbers declined to
approximately 30 cats by the early 1980s, but research and
monitoring by FWC biologists have helped in restoring the genetic
health and vigor of the panther population.
Florida panthers breed throughout the year, but
peak activity occurs in the spring. Biologists attempt to visit the
dens when the kittens are approximately 2 weeks old. At that time,
litter size and composition are noted, samples (skin, hair, blood,
fecal) are taken for genetic testing and health screening,
transponders are inserted for identification purposes. This
information helps biologists learn about the genetic structure of
the population. Also oral deworming medication is administered to
help give the kittens a healthy start.
The kittens stay in the den for about two months,
after which they begin following their mother to kills and begin
the weaning process. Kittens stay with their mother for about 14
months. Females set up a home range near or overlapping their
mother's home range. Males disperse away from their natal
range, sometimes covering hundreds of miles before settling into
their own home range.
"It's quite rewarding when we can follow Florida
panthers throughout their lives," said FWC panther biologist Mark
Lotz. "Active dens are tangible evidence that the Florida panther
is reproducing. We learn so much about panthers when we track them
from birth through adulthood."
Details on this year's births can be found at
www.FloridaPantherNet.org; click on "Panther
State funding for panther research and monitoring
comes from fees collected when Florida residents purchase panther
specialty license plates. Visit www.buyaplate.com for more information.
To report dead or injured panthers call the
Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.