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Disorder Impacting Panthers and Bobcats

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, FWC has confirmed neurological damage in one panther and one bobcat through necropsy. Additionally, trail camera footage has captured eight panthers (mostly kittens) and one adult bobcat displaying varying degrees of difficulty walking. The FWC takes this situation seriously and is increasing monitoring efforts to locate impacted animals. The FWC has deployed additional cameras to capture more videos of affected animals.

Please see our recent news release for more information. 

If you have video or photos of affected panthers or information on this disorder, please contact us at Panther.Sightings@MyFWC.com

Update

Thanks to everyone who has provided us with pictures, videos and information. Our panther experts are continuing to investigate the cause of this condition and are following up on leads as appropriate. We will provide updates on this page as they become available.

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.