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Disorder Impacting Panthers and Bobcats

Please visit our Updates page for the latest news and updates on this situation.

Panther in the forest

The FWC is investigating a disorder detected in some Florida panthers and bobcats. Affected animals exhibit varying degrees of rear leg weaknesses that lead to difficulty in walking. The FWC takes this situation seriously and is increasing monitoring efforts to locate affected animals via the deployment of video trail camera in areas where the condition has been most frequently documented. The FWC has termed this condition feline leukomyelopathy or FLM.

We appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and their assistance as citizen scientists. We encourage the public to continue to submit footage and pictures of wildlife that appear to have problems with their rear legs at and to report dead or injured panthers to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). 

The FWC and collaborators continue to conduct extensive testing; however, a cause of FLM has not yet been determined. We will continue to provide updates as more information become available.

You can support panther research and management by the FWC via purchasing the “Protect the Panther” license plate. 

Please see the FAQs below for more information about this condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • People can help by submitting trail camera footage or other videos that happen to capture affected animals.
  • Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a "Protect the Panther" license plate from your county tax collector’s office. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.
  • To report dead or injured panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.
  • Donate money for the care of injured, sick or orphaned panthers at: Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

Please see the latest update for an estimate affected panthers and bobcats.

The first video footage of an affected kitten was received in the spring of 2018. Further review of earlier still photos suggest that an affected kitten may have been documented in 2017. It was not until 2019 that additional reports were received, suggesting that this is a broader issue.

At this point we do not know for certain; however, we suspect several young panthers have died perhaps because they could not keep up with their family and their ability to catch their own prey or move across the landscape was compromised.

At this point we do not know; however, there is no evidence to suggest it is contagious. For example. we do know of instances where a mother panther is unaffected but some of her kittens are affected.

Any disease or condition impacting multiple animals is cause for concern. We are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue.

Since the disorder is determined by examining the spinal cord, we can only confirm it in dead panthers and bobcats.  FLM likely impacts the ability to catch prey or successfully cross roads.  However, the condition was not the primary cause of death for those individuals.

We do not know at this time but we believe the condition is permanent.

Until we know the cause of this condition, we cannot say whether this will affect other animals. We do know that two species, panthers and bobcats, appear to have been affected.

While it is unlikely this condition would affect people, we do not know for certain. However, people should always avoid direct contact with wild animals, including panthers and bobcats.

If you see a live panther impacted by this condition or you see a dead or injured panther, please contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. 

While numerous diseases and possible causes have been ruled out, a definitive cause has not yet been determined. The FWC is testing for a variety of toxins and pathogens including herbicides and pesticides.

If an affected individual appears unable to survive in the wild, then the FWC would consider capture and removal. Factors to consider include whether a capture is feasible and safe, and whether it could entail the risk of breaking up a family group. A severely affected animal that is captured may be placed in permanent captivity or humanely euthanized.

If the FWC and/or USFWS captures an affected panther, it will be taken to an approved facility where it will receive appropriate care. To the extent possible, diagnostic testing and observation may allow us to learn about the disorder.

The FWC takes this situation seriously and is taking a variety of steps to determine the cause of this disorder.

  • The FWC has deployed additional cameras to capture more videos of affected animals.
  • FWC biologists and veterinarians are studying existing evidence and current literature for any similar cases in other parts of the world.
  • The FWC is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a wide array of experts, including other puma biologists, wildlife veterinarians and disease specialists to examine evidence, identify possible causes and to see if similar cases have been reported elsewhere.
  • FWC veterinarians are conducting necropsies and testing samples for a variety of toxins and pathogens.

We have considered these diseases and don’t feel at this time that they are playing a primary role. All cats involved have been negative for FeLV which, among infectious diseases, has had the biggest impact on the panther population. Feline immunodeficiency virus and feline panleukopenia virus is present at a fairly high prevalence in the population (~40%) but does not appear to cause significant clinical disease in panthers. We are not completely ruling anything out at this point and will continue to test for these diseases in future cases. FLM may also be caused by multiple co-factors.

Tick paralysis was one of our initial considerations; however, this condition does not appear to be the cause based on multiple necropsies.

We do not believe so. Because this is occurring in bobcats as well, we do not think there is a genetic component.

Toxicity from cane toad seems to be unlikely at this point (the post-mortem changes seen are not consistent with cane toad toxicity); however, this cause has not been completely ruled out.

While some probable cases have been observed on FWC trail cameras, the majority have been received from the public.  Citizens have submitted videos of panthers and bobcats from trail cameras, security cameras, and cell phones. We sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support from the public.

At this time, FLM has only been found in Florida.

While it is possible that the causative agent is something in the water, it is not limited to one watershed.  Confirmed cases have been observed in multiple locations in peninsular Florida.