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Disorder Impacting Panthers and Bobcats

UPDATE: This information has been updated as of October 23, 2019

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. To date, the FWC has confirmed neurological damage in one panther and one bobcat through necropsy. Necropsy results of a second panther are pending. Additionally, trail camera footage has captured nine panthers (mostly kittens) and four adult bobcats displaying signs that may be consistent with this condition. The FWC takes this situation seriously and is increasing monitoring efforts to locate affected animals.

In July 2019, the FWC viewed video footage from a trail camera showing a female Florida panther (FP256) in Collier County exhibiting symptoms associated with this condition. The panther had young kittens that likely would not have survived in the wild. FWC staff removed the kittens for observation and testing. Monitoring of these kittens as they age may provide valuable information pertaining to the cause of this condition.

FWC trail cameras subsequently documented that the adult female panther’s health was deteriorating, and in October 2019, the decision was made to remove her from the wild. After a thorough examination the decision was made to humanely euthanize the panther due to the animal’s poor condition and the unlikelihood of recovery or improvement. The panther underwent complete necropsy, and the results of extensive diagnostic testing are pending.

The FWC and collaborators have increased monitoring efforts for this condition via the deployment of video trail cameras in areas where the condition has been most frequently documented.

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 MyFWC.com/PantherSightings 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 for this condition has not yet been determined. We will continue to update this page 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 our August 2019 news release and 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 at BuyaPlate.com. 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: https://wildlifeflorida.org/funding-priorities/

It is unknown how many animals may be affected by this condition. The FWC has evidence of fewer than ten animals (including the bobcat). Since most of the evidence is from videos, it is at times difficult to tell if some of the affected animals are ones that have already been documented.

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 have been 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 was compromised.

At this point we do not know. However, for example we do know of instances where a mother panther is unaffected but some of her kittens are affected.

The number of animals exhibiting these symptoms is relatively few; however, any disease or condition impacting multiple animals is cause for concern. We are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue.

A panther that died after being struck by a vehicle was later determined to have this condition.  We also examined a bobcat that was found dead and determined it too had evidence of this condition.

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

The FWC was initially hopeful the condition would improve without the need to remove the kitten from the wild. There were also concerns that attempts at capture could break up the family group and put both kittens at greater risk. When the kitten did not improve, the FWC set traps to capture the kitten but were not able to do so.

No. There are a few family groups affected by this condition. However, it is difficult to determine exactly how many panthers have been impacted as it is generally not possible to identify panthers and their kittens as unique individuals from camera footage.

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. There is a video of a wild hog behaving abnormally near where some of the affected panthers were documented however, we do not know if this is related to the condition affecting the felines.

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 looking at a variety of possible causes and is testing for a number of 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. All known affected live kittens appear to be capable of keeping up with their mother and may be able to survive in the wild.

If the FWC and/or USFWC capture 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 from around the world, 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.

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. That being said, we are not completely ruling anything out at this point and will continue to test for these diseases in future cases.

Tick paralysis was one of our initial considerations. However, this proved not to be the case following the post-mortem examination of an affected bobcat.

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.

At this time, we cannot determine the extent to which the kittens under human care may be affected by this condition.

Unfortunately, the kittens will not be able to return to the wild because they were only two weeks of age when they had to be removed. At that age, they were not able to learn the skills necessary to survive from their mother.

It is likely that the kittens would not have survived if they had remained in the wild. The condition of the mother panther affected her ability to find food to support herself, making it very unlikely that she would have been able to provide adequate care for her two kittens.

Currently these kittens are being monitored at a rehabilitation facility. A decision has not yet been made as to where they will be kept in the long-term.

The health of this panther was compromised by the disorder, and the level of muscle loss in her hindquarters limited her hunting ability, likely restricting her to only small prey. This limitation, along with permanent damage associated with the disorder, would have prevented her ability to survive.

Biologists take the decision to remove panthers from the wild very seriously, especially when it is a female of breeding age. The condition of the female panther was closely monitored by veterinarians and biologists. When it became clear that her condition was deteriorating, they made the decision to remove her.

We sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support by the public with regards to panther conservation. We have received a variety of reports of animals that may be affected. The panther team is following up on leads to see if these animals appear to have the same condition.