Small Population and Poor Genetic Health

The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) historically ranged throughout the southeastern United States but its numbers were drastically reduced from years of persecution and habitat destruction until the only animals that survived were completely isolated in south Florida. Research initiated by FWC during the 1980s and early 1990s revealed there were probably only 20-30 panthers remaining in the wild. 

Panther numbers were around 20-30 panthers between 1985 and 1995

A population viability analysis in 1992, done by a team of geneticists and conservation biologists, concluded the Florida panther would become extinct in 24-63 years due to its small population size, isolation and associated genetic health problems resulting from inbreeding.

Having a limited pool of possible mates, especially when those mates are closely related, led to the loss of genetic variation, which plays an integral role in population health and the ability of individuals to adapt to local conditions. Genetic health problems included heart defects, poor sperm qualities and the failure of one or both testicles to properly develop. And so as recently as the early 1990s, all these factors made the long-term prospect for the Florida panther rather bleak. But as you will see if you continue reading the other Genetics sections, the panther’s story does not end here.

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