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Florida panther

The Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) formerly ranged from eastern Texas and western Louisiana into the lower Mississippi River Valley and eastward through Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina [1]. Hunting and habitat loss reduced the subspecies to a single population of 30-50 adults in south Florida by the late 1980s [2]. This population generally occurs within the Big Cypress Swamp physiographic region and is centered in Collier and Hendry Counties [1].

In 1981, two panthers were captured and radio-collared, initiating an extensive monitoring program that continues today (over 116 panthers have been collared since the program’s inception) [5]. By 1990, all extensive panther habitats had been explored and few panthers remained uncollared [5]. Between 1981 and 1990, the panther population was static at 30-50 adults [5] but began to show signs of inbreeding depression in the heart and sperm [4]. To increase genetic diversity, eight reproductive females from a closely related subspecies were translocated from Texas in 1995. The Texas females have produced at least 20 offspring [2] and the hybrid kittens don’t appear to have the heart and reproductive problems seen in the Florida panthers [5]. The population has increased by over 200% between 1995 and 2003 [3]. In 2003, there were 87 known panthers [4]. In addition, the panthers roam over a larger area, including areas in the Everglades, Big Cypress and Fakahatchee once suggested to be unable to support them [4].

[1] U.S. Fish and wildlife Service. 1993. Florida Panther (Felis Concolor Coryi) Species Account. Website < http://www.fws.gov/endangered/i/a/saa05.html> accessed May, 2006.
[2] Lotz, M., D. Land, M. Cunningham and B. Ferree. 2005. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Florida Panther Annual Report 2—4-2005. Available at <http://www.panther.state.fl.us/news/pdf/FWC2004-2005PantherAnnualReport.pdf>.
[3] Gross, L.J. and Comiskey. 2002. ATLSS PanTrack Telemtry Visualization Tool. U.S. Geological Survey Greater Everglades Science Program 2002 Biennial Report. Available at <http://sofia.usgs.gov/projects/atlss/panthers/telvistool_03geerab.html>.
[4] Pimm, S.L., L. Dollar, and O.L. Bass Jr. 2006. The genetic rescue of the Florida panther. Animal Conservation 9(2):115-122.
[5] McBride, R.T. 2001. Current panther distribution, population trends, and habitat use: report of field work: fall 2000 – winter 2001. Report to Florida Panther SubTeam of MERIT, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Florida Ecosystem Office, Vero Beach, Florida. www.panther.state.fl.us/news/pdf/rtm2001.pdf.

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