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March 21, 2024

To date, FWC has collected a total of 72 spinal cord samples from 41 panthers and 31 bobcats since 2017 for diagnosis. From those samples, FLM has been confirmed in 8 panthers and 11 bobcats. The majority of samples have been collected from vehicular mortalities; therefore, this cannot be considered a random sample. 

Based on behavioral observation on video, there have been 69 probable cases (32 panthers and 37 bobcats).  The prevalence or percentage of affected bobcats and panthers remains unknown, but overall appears low.

The number of cases documented each year does not appear to be increasing nor does the disorder appear to be spreading; cases are primarily limited to Southwest Florida but have been observed in Northcentral Florida and on the East coast.

Both panthers and bobcats have been radiocollared for FLM monitoring.  Tracking allows FWC to take samples from prey that have been consumed and to determine which areas FLM positive animals frequent. Currently 9 bobcats and 7 panthers are being tracked. We have focused on females so we can find their kittens to potentially determine FLM onset and progression.

March 30, 2023

The FWC Panther Team continues to opportunistically collect spinal cord samples from most roadkill panthers and bobcats they recover. FLM can only be confirmed through a microscopic exam of this tissue post-mortem.  To date, FWC has collected a total of 61 spinal cord samples from 32 panthers and 29 bobcats. Examination of these tissue samples are performed by a skilled wildlife pathologist with our collaborators at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS). Presence of the characteristics of FLM —symmetrical vacuoles or holes in spinal cord tissue— was noted in a sample collected from K519, a radiocollared Florida panther kitten whose carcass was recovered after a vehicle collision on 5 September 2022.  The accompanying video shows K519 and her sibling moving normally on 19 June 2022.  This critical information collected by the FWC Panther Team helps to determine the timeframe for the onset of FLM.  

FLM was first observed in April 2017.  Through February 2023, 75 cases (31 panthers, 44 bobcats) have been diagnosed in peninsular Florida. This includes 17 Confirmed cases (6 panthers, 11 bobcats) and 58 Probable cases (based on remote video, 25 panthers, 33 bobcats). The cause and effect of FLM on Florida’s wild felid populations remains unknown.

Panther and Kittens Video Captured by fStop Foundation

March 9, 2022

Two tagged bobcats are released into the wild

Since first documented in 2017, FLM has been suspected in 58 panthers and bobcats. As of 9 March 2022, we have 14 confirmed cases (10 bobcats and 4 panthers). Of note, we observed a decrease in the number of cases of FLM in 2021 compared to previous years. We continue to opportunistically perform necropsies on roadkill bobcats, in addition to panthers. FWC also typically has >50 camera traps deployed to monitor for the occurrence and prevalence of FLM.

In November 2021, in collaboration with Big Cat Rescue, FWC radiocollared and released two rehabilitated female bobcats (BOB58 and BOB59), to monitor the disease. Radiocollared bobcats provide information on bobcat home range, habitat preference, diet, behavior and reproduction in an area that has been documented to have wild felids with FLM. Data from these collars can assist documenting the onset of FLM and permit us to sample litters of kittens, an age group that is hypothesized to have a higher probability of presenting the disease.

In addition to viral, nutritional, bacterial, fungal testing, we are testing for toxins, including rodenticides, pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals, but nothing has been definitive. There have been no reports of the disease presenting in domestic felids or other wildlife. However, there is still concern of a possible spillover. FWC is in contact with regional wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, and animal shelters to monitor other species.

Video: Monitoring for Feline Leukomyelopathy (FLM)

March 23, 2021

man holding panther kitten

FWC continues to monitor the distribution and prevalence of feline leukomyelopathy (FLM) in Florida’s wild felids via combination of reports from citizen scientists and targeted research projects.  Both the National Park Service and FWC have deployed trail cameras across a wide swath of Big Cypress National Preserve to attempt to document any cases of FLM in bobcats and Florida panthers within this core region of panther habitat.  Currently, FWC is monitoring for FLM via >100 trail cameras deployed in south and central Florida.  In January of 2021, the FWC radiocollared three panther kittens of FP224, a female that has raised a previous litter where several kittens exhibited signs of FLM.  Radiocollaring allows us to monitor these kittens to assess survival and potentially document cases of FLM in this important age group.  Such information could prove informative to determining the root cause of this disorder.  To date, we’ve documented 11 confirmed (8 bobcats and 3 panthers) and 37 probable (assessed mainly by trail camera footage; 18 bobcat and 19 panthers) cases of FLM across Florida.

FLM Footage

Footage of a Florida panther and a bobcat exhibiting signs of feline leukomyelopathy.

August 24, 2020

As part of our ongoing investigation into feline leukomyelopathy (FLM), the FWC panther team has now collected and sampled 35 bobcats with the assistance of FWC law enforcement, collaborators, and citizen scientists across Florida. These bobcats have either been tested or are in the process of being assessed for FLM. As of August 24 2020, seven bobcats and two Florida panthers have been confirmed to have FLM. We have collected varied tissue samples from all FLM positive animals to analyze with a wide array of tests in order to attempt to decipher the root cause of the disorder. The FWC and collaborators are currently monitoring four panther family groups with trail cameras and each group includes at least one kitten that is exhibiting symptoms consistent with FLM. Additionally, in June 2020, National Park Service staff at Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) documented a female panther with a dependent-aged kitten that appears to have hind limb weakness typical of FLM. This particular case, if verified, would be the first instance of FLM documented far from human-populated areas. The presence of FLM in one of our larger blocks of conservation lands such as BCNP would be concerning since it could indicate the condition is more widespread than initially suspected. FWC and NPS will initiate increased monitoring in the fall of 2020 to further assess the prevalence of FLM. So far though, FLM appears to only be afflicting a small percentage of bobcats and panthers across their ranges, since the majority of videos we’ve collected to date reveal apparently healthy individuals with no symptoms consistent with FLM.

April 30, 2020

The nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida has announced a $150,000 grant to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to research the cause of a debilitating neuromuscular disorder afflicting Florida’s panthers and bobcats.

View press release: Florida Felines Find Foundation Funding

March 30, 2020

side by side image of a man listening to the heart of a bobcat and of a bobcat walking on a road

FWC Biologist and Law Enforcement Staff, along with citizen scientists, continue to assist with submitting sightings and collecting samples from wild felids to learn more about the prevalence of feline leukomyelopathy (FLM). Since 13 January 2020, we have collected samples from 8 additional bobcats from across portions of central and southwest Florida. Most of these were road mortalities; some were injured bobcats that were brought to rehab facilities for care. Two of the 8 bobcats sampled have been confirmed as having FLM. This brings the total documented cases of FLM to 8 (2 Florida panthers and 6 bobcats). This neuromuscular disorder has now been documented in Collier, Charlotte, Pasco, and Alachua counties. The previous update erroneously included a bobcat FLM case in Hillsborough County. While this animal was euthanized in Hillsborough County, the bobcat was captured in Pasco County. FWC staff continues to collaborate with experts to determine a cause of this disorder.

January 13, 2020

The FWC continues to investigate the neurological condition, which we have termed feline leukomyelopathy (FLM), in Florida panthers and bobcats. Thanks to reports from the public, veterinarians, and biologists the FWC has determined the condition is more widely distributed than originally believed. FLM has been confirmed in a bobcat from Alachua County, and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has confirmed FLM in a bobcat from Hillsborough County. Another bobcat from Collier County also has FLM and, as expected, necropsy results from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine confirmed FLM in FP256. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 6 (two panthers and four bobcats). The FWC is continuing to investigate this mystery and no possible causes have been ruled out.

October 31, 2019

image collage of two panther kittens

The FWC continues to investigate a disorder detected in some Florida panthers and bobcats. As part of the investigation, the FWC and our partners are caring for two kittens of an affected female panther (FP256) that was euthanized due to the severity of her condition.

We appreciate the support of the public and their concern for these kittens, who recently received their final examinations in a series of kitten checkups. While veterinarians cannot predict to what degree the kittens may become affected, they are currently active, playful, and healthy overall.

FWC thanks our partner facilities who have been instrumental in the care of these kittens: Animal Specialty Hospital, Zoo Tampa, and the University of Florida’s Veterinary School.

Panther Kittens

K498 and K499, kittens of FP256. The kittens were removed from the wild due to the debilitated condition of their mother, FP256.

October 23, 2019

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.