Male DOB 1/1/03
Caravel (Caracal / Serval Hybrid)
Meet Jo Jo the Caracal Serval Hybrid
I first met JoJo the Caracal / Serval hybrid at the South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in 2005 after a hurricane had taken down the perimeter fencing and dumped piles of deadfall on the cages.
The owner, Dirk Neugebohm, had ended up in the hospital with a heart attack from trying to clean the mess up by himself.
He wrote from what he thought was his deathbed back then to anyone and everyone he could think of asking for help; and asking for help was not something that came easily to this hard working German.
What we found, when Howard and I visited, was a man who was way in over his head. Donations were almost non existent, the cages were old, dilapidated, small and concrete floored. The freezer had been damaged and he had lost his food supply, so we sent food and volunteers to help him clean up and rebuild.
The tiger back then was Sinbad, who lived in what is commonly used for housing parrots. An oval corn crib cage with a metal roof. Sinbad died recently after a snake bite, leaving Krishna, pictured, as the only remaining tiger.
We had a donor and a sanctuary (Safe Haven in NV) that were willing to take Krishna, but we were told that the Florida Wildlife Commission had found someone less than 6 miles away to take him.
Dirk managed to keep his sanctuary afloat, if just barely, for the next 8 years, but a couple days ago one of his volunteers, Vickie Saez, who we had been helping for the past couple of years with infrastructure and social networking, contacted us to say that Dirk was dying of brain cancer in the hospital and that she had convinced him to let the animals go to other homes. She said the Florida Wildlife Commission had arranged for most of the homes, but that Dirk was very happy that we could take JoJo. Our sweet Caracal, Rose, had died July 31st and her cage was empty.
We were told that all of the other cats had new homes waiting, except for Nola the cougar, but she was very ill. We offered to pay a vet to do blood work on her to make sure that she was not contagious. We were concerned because she had a history of some very contagious diseases, which had left her severely debilitated. What concerned us was that her caretaker said she looked bloated.
A vet had arrived to help with the transfer of two leopards to a place in Jupiter. He sedated Nola to see what was wrong.
We are told that he palpitated three melon sized tumors in her abdomen and that with every touch of her belly she exuded foamy blood from her nose and anus. He was sure that there was no hope for her and humanely euthanized her.
This photo was Nola back in 2011. While we were sad that we would not be able to give Nola a new home here at Big Cat Rescue we are glad that she is not suffering any more.
JoJo at Big Cat Rescue
JoJo has arrived at Big Cat Rescue and settled in nicely. It is quite possibly his first time to walk on the soft earth.
His cage has been a small (maybe 60 square feet) of concrete and chain link for at least 8 years and probably longer. He is thought to be about 10 years old. Sometimes breeders hybridize exotic cats because there are no laws on the books that regulate them, but in Florida, the inspectors say, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck; it’s a duck.”
JoJo now has 1,200 square feet of earth, bushes, trees and grass.
He really likes the grass. Are you hearing the Beetles lyric, “JoJo left his home in Homestead-Miami looking for some Florida grass?”
Mac was brought here by his owner to be boarded because of zoning laws changing in his owner’s home town, but that was many years ago. He now has a permanent home at Big Cat Rescue and enjoys a 1200 square foot lush Cat.a.tat with a large cave den.
Mac has a particular penchant for small children, as do most big cats. Big cats see children as potential prey and having a big cat as a pet is a recipe for disaster.
When a group comes by on a guided tour, Mac always picks out the smallest child (or person) in the group and you would think there was no one else on the tour if you judged from Mac’s perspective.
Exotic cats are opportunistic hunters and the weak and the small are the easiest targets.
Mickey Cougar’s story is so long and heartbreaking that it will be hard to tell in just a few minutes. (Watch his rescue video to find out the whole story.)
Animal House, in Moulton, AL, was a backyard zoo that operated with a USDA license up until 2006 when it was revoked. At the time Alabama had no laws to regulate the private possession of wild animals, so once USDA washed their hands of the mess, there was virtually no government oversight of the facility. Former volunteers say the owner had no other source of income than her social security check and that she had contracted with the county to become their dog pound.
In 2013 conditions there were reported to be so grim that the county revoked her contract and rescue groups went in to save the dogs and cats housed at Animal House. One of the rescuers video taped a leopard who had been injured by a Doberman, two years prior, and sent the photos and video to Big Cat Rescue asking for help.
We were told that the owner had been feeding the dogs and cats there to her wild animals and that the Doberman had fought back. Her family said the dog had just been in an adjacent cage and the leopard reached through. Regardless of whether it was malice or neglect, the leopard’s leg had bones sticking out and festering tissue exposed. Big Cat Rescue tried, unsuccessfully, for months, to get USDA, the USFWS, the State of Alabama and the local Sheriff to either confiscate the leopard or get her medical attention. When they failed to help the cat we appealed to the media, who said there wasn’t a story if they couldn’t get permission to go film the cat themselves, which the owner was NOT going to allow.
The leopard died and had probably suffered unimaginable agony for two years or more until her wounds killed her.
We never gave up and 2014 began negotiations with the owner, her family members and the state department of natural resources to rescue the cats who still were being kept there. When we saw the condition Mickey Cougar was in, we didn’t know if he would make it at all.
Both of his back knees suffered from torn ligaments so that when he walked the bones on top would just roll and slip off the bottom bones. It was painful to even look at him. Despite the fact that he was grossly underweight and had almost no muscle mass we had to make the difficult decision to sedate him to evaluate the damage and then again to try and repair it.
Dr. Hay, an orthopedic specialist, did the surgery, using something like a synthetic ligament mesh, to mend back his first leg. Dr. Wynn used a new technique of spinning the patient’s own blood and harvesting platelet rich plasma, to quicken healing, which was injected into the other knee. We had to reduce the size of Mickey’s cage, so he takes it easy while he is healing. We will probably have to go back and do surgery on the injected knee once the first one has healed.
Meanwhile Mickey seems to have a strong will to live and we are going to give him every chance possible at a happy life.
Update Feb 22, 2016
Mickey Update Oct. 15, 2014
I can’t even look at Mickey without tearing up because he is at once, both so pitiful and yet so determined to overcome. We knew it would cost a lot to try and fix him.
For the past week or so, Mickey has been getting rehab treatments, to encourage him to use the leg and build up some muscle. It is Mickey’s nature to have two speeds: Laying around and full out running for the dinner plate. The twice a day rehab work gives him food treat rewards for walking slowing and deliberately.
We can see a pronounced improvement in the leg that was repaired, as he can keep the knee in place much better, but because of his lack of strength, from nearly starving to death in Alabama, and having no muscle, he trips over his back feet.
We film some of these sessions so the vet can see his progress and have shared some of them online, but it hurts to watch.
Dr. Hay visited the sanctuary recently, to see the rehab session himself. He said at Mickey’s current pace he thinks the surgically repaired knee should be strong enough that he can operate on the other side in 3 to 6 months.
Every day it is touch and go with Mickey because he needs to let the repair heal fully, and thus distribute his weight to the repaired leg and the one that still slides all over the place. Too much reliance on the repaired leg and it could damage the work done and never heal right and too much reliance on the broken knee, and his muscles on the other side will continue to atrophy.
Everything has its side effects, so even the pain meds have to be very carefully monitored, as too much can make him nauseous or cause him to sleep all the time and too little can make him not want to move at all.
Whenever there are cats in need of rescue, we always offer to take the oldest, sickest or most impaired because our sanctuary is unique in its ability to provide the best veterinary and supportive care. We have 2 vets that have been with us for about a decade each. They visit twice a week and provide all of the house calls for free.
We have specialists in orthopedics, eyes, cancer and teeth who dramatically discount their work because they love the big cats. We have 14 paid staff, who do administrative work and manage our 80-100 volunteers who put in the collective hours of 40 more paid staff. By spending the time and money to train expert volunteers, our donors’ money can go directly to the cats.
The reason we can provide such excellent care is because people like you care. It is your donations that keep the food coming every night, the medications on time, the emergency care and the ability to take in other cats like Mickey, who wouldn’t have a chance anywhere else.
Mickey Cougar Update March 6, 2015
Mickey Cougar was rescued in 2014. He was in such bad shape that we weren’t sure if we should try to fix everything that was wrong with him, or put him out of his misery. This video does not seem to have ever been posted, as it was 40 minutes long and 6GB in size. It’s been cut down to 12 minutes and shows the horrible decisions we often have to make.
Check out our main YouTube channel at BigCatTV.com and our website at BigCatRescue.org
Puma concolor coryi. The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar that has
adapted to the subtropical environment of Florida.
How Many Panthers Are Left?
Only 80 to 100 panthers still remain in Florida, making this one of the most rare and endangered mammals in the world.
Where is their Habitat?
Florida Panthers are usually found in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests. Adult males may range over an area of 200 square miles, while females range over a 70 to 80 square mile area. Florida panthers are very solitary animals. An adult maintains a home range to live, hunt and, if female, raise its young alone. A male panther’s home range is very large and averages 275 square miles and overlaps with the smaller home ranges of females. Panthers maintain boundaries by marking with scents. They rarely fight over territory.
Panthers are most active at dusk and dawn, they can travel 15-20 miles a day, often moving in a zig-zag pattern, though they tend to rest during the daytime, travel & hunt during the cooler hours of the night. Panthers can swim and will cross wide bodies of water. They have a keen sense of smell and a field of vision of 130 degrees, they have excellent depth perception but lack the panoramic view that deer have.
They can run up to 35 mph but only for a few hundred yards, their preferred method of hunting is to creep up as close to their prey as possible and launch a short spring attack. Panthers do become used to man-made noises and frequently cross roads. They are attracted to woodland fires, and may stay near burned sites for days as deer and other prey are drawn to new vegetation. When humans approach an area they will either be still, disappear, or attempt to circle behind. Panthers can live up to between 12-15 years in the wild. A male can measure 7-8 feet from the nose to tail tip and weight 100-160 lbs. Females are about 6 feet in length and weight between 60-100 lbs.
What About Their Breeding Habits?
The Life Cycle
What Kind of Hunter is the Panther?
Efficient is the word. Adult male panthers weigh up to 150 pounds and can measure almost 7 feet long from the nose to the tip of the tail. Females are smaller, rarely weighing more than 100 pounds. Panthers are built to hunt live prey. Deer and wild hogs
are their preferred food, but, when these are not available, panthers will eat raccoons, armadillos and even alligators. Interestingly, panthers eating a diet of small animals are not as healthy as those with plenty of deer to hunt. While they are good sprinters, panthers rarely chase prey for long distances. Instead, prey is singled out, stalked and ambushed.
What are the Threats?
We are. This also means that we can directly affect the panther’s future. It’s sad to say that Florida panthers are killed by cars and trucks, particularly on State Road 29 and Alligator Alley (I-75), and – although it is against the law – hunters also still shoot panthers occasionally.
The biggest threats to the remaining panthers, however, are their health and continuing loss of habitat. Florida panthers have an unusually large number of health problems. Most are related to poor habitat conditions and genetic defects.
Around the Everglades, panthers have been contaminated with mercury (at least 1 has died from mercury poisoning) by eating raccoons high in mercury, which passes through the aquatic food chain. The mercury’s origin is being debated and is uncertain.
What is being done?
Plans to save the panthers focus on 3 areas of action. First, additional habitat must be secured and enhanced. Second, programs are under way to breed panthers in captivity for later release back in the wild. Third, scientists are exploring ways to increase the genetic variability of panthers through cross-breeding with closely related subspecies.
The panther needs large wilderness areas for its survival. Federally listed as endangered since 1967, the Florida panther is down to 80 to 100 individuals. These few animals are threatened by further habitat loss, collisions with cars, the ill effects of inbreeding, and high levels of mercury in their prey.
May of the remaining panthers live in or near Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The National Park Service is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Natural Resources, and other organizations to try to bring about recovery of the Florida panther. Efforts are centered on research, captive breeding, and public education. Radio-collaring of several panthers has shown what areas and habitat types they use. Other studies have identified the principal prey — white-tailed deer. Publicity has made the public more aware of the panther’s plight and alerted people to watch out for them on the highway. But with the numbers so low and suitable habitat in south Florida so restricted, captive breeding and reestablishment in other areas will be crucial for turning the population decline around.
Are There Any Refuges?
The National Wildlife Refuge System Act of 1966 includes measures to preserve ecosystems for endangered species, perpetuate migratory bird species, preserve natural diversity, and create public appreciation for wildlife protection.
The refuge system is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge is one of the 58 refuges established under the authority of the Endangered Species Act. The refuge area has long been known as an important Florida Panther habitat. Several female panthers have had litters and raised kittens on the refuge in recent years.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitors panther activity using radio telemetry collars. They fly three times a week to aerially locate each radio-collared panther. These techniques provide vital information to scientists. The swamps and pinelands panthers occupy also provide us with clean air and water, as well as thousands of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants.
The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge lies 20 miles east of Naples, Florida. Interstate 75 parallels the south boundary; State Road 29 parallels the east boundary.
Mission of the Panther Refuge
To conserve and manage lands and waters in concert with other agency efforts within the Big Cypress Watershed, primarily for the Florida Panther, other endangered and threatened species, natural diversity,
and cultural resources for the benefit of the American people.
In 1989, data collected from 29 radio-collared panthers indicated that the population was losing genetic diversity at a rate of three to seven percent yearly. Researchers believed that the gene pool would continue to erode even if the population stabilized, leading to extinction within 40 years. Three years later, with the health of the population continuing to decline, biologists made a controversial decision. In an effort to increase genetic diversity, wildlife managers introduced several female Texas cougars — the closest remaining cougar population that had historically shared Florida panther range — into the Florida panther population in 1995. Several hybrid litters have since been produced, and the introduction seems to have corrected some of the problems experts generally attribute to inbreeding. Experts are still debating the role of the Texas cougars in panther recovery.
Despite the success of this effort, panthers are still at great risk of extinction. Conserving the panther will require aggressive protections for remaining wild lands in south Florida as well as conservation efforts on private lands.
Another major conservation challenge for the panther is reestablishing the species in other portions of its historic range. Field studies have indicated an adequate prey base and appropriate habitat in some areas of northern Florida. While there is widespread popular support for panther reintroduction in Florida, some people are still concerned about introducing the cat to new areas, fearing the panther will bring with it restrictions on private property uses, potential damage to livestock and pets, and a possible threat to human safety. Such concerns often surround recovery efforts for large carnivores, but with proper assurances to address depredation claims and any potential “problem” animals, reintroduction projects could prove a positive step towards recovering the Florida panther.
What You Can Do To Save The Panther
Become informed by researching materials from creditable sources which take a scientific approach.
Help others become educated about the nature and habits of the panther and its value as an important part in the balance of nature.
Support wilderness land acquisition, and the public and private land management practices which emphasize biodiversity and balance.
Don’t be silent, join in and support the environmental education process to raise the consciousness of the community. You can do this by individual effort and/or by joining with others in various ways to get the job done.
Do a school project on the Florida Panther
Make wildlife a family affair. Display panther bumper stickers. Visit national and state parks where the panther lives. Watch TV programs about endangered species.
Attend public meetings on panther issues. The decisions that affect endangered species are made in these forums. Make sure your voice is heard.
Speak out every chance you get. Awareness is half the battle. Tell everyone you can about the plight of the panther.
As with most conservation issues, the struggle of the panther goes beyond the question of whether it is worth saving this particular species. If our wilderness can’t support panthers, then many other less visible species also will perish. Let’s all do what we can to ensure that future generations will know this beautiful animal and the wilderness it symbolizes.
Note: Much of the information and research on this site is courtesy of both the Florida Panther Net (http://www.panther.state.fl.us/) and The Panther Society. Our deep felt thanks goes to them for their tireless efforts to ensure the panther’s survival by educating us all.
Florida Panther News
Protecting the Florida Panther is vital to saving Florida's precious eco system. These are the most recent news stories about Florida Panthers and their fight for survival.
• Slow down when you’re driving
Over 10% of the dwindling Florida Panther population was killed in 2009 by vehicle strikes. Watch out for all wildlife. Know what to do if you encounter a panther in the wild; i.e. make yourself appear larger, avoid crouching or bending over, do not run, give the panther an easy way to escape.
Historic News About the Florida Panther
Small Population Only One Danger Facing Panthers
By WILL ROTHSCHILD Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Published: Mar 26, 2006
OCHOPEE – The future of the Florida panther is playing out here on Loop Road, a 26-mile route carved through the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve.
Considered the most endangered mammal on the planet when it numbered perhaps two dozen a decade ago, the panther has rebounded to about 80.
The number of people living in South Florida also has climbed dramatically in the past 10 years. With more people moving into subdivisions chiseled into the scrubby pinelands and hardwood hammocks that once buffered panthers from urban life, a growing chorus of observers say Florida has reached its limit of cats.
Sustaining the recovery, in fact, promises to be much trickier, hinging as much on social and political considerations as scientific ones. How those questions are answered could determine whether panthers hang on or whether South Florida decides it no longer has the room or the will to protect them.
The number of panthers killed on roadways this year has equaled the total from all of 2005.
Perhaps a more telling indicator of the trouble facing the panther is the increasing pressure to remove a particular cat from the wild this year.
Panthers are known for their stealth, but this cat, known as No. 124, has been anything but for more than two years. She has been seen dozens of times prowling along Loop Road homesites in the Big Cypress hamlet of Ochopee.
Leaders of the Miccosukee Indians who live there worry she will attack pets or livestock or, though a panther attack on a person has never been reported, one of the children who play along Loop Road and the fringes of wild Big Cypress.
As the debate continues, about 124 and how to handle panther-human interaction – not to mention whether the Florida panther’s DNA has become so corrupted by a cross-breeding program that it might not even be the Florida panther anymore – some scientists think the risk of extinction is as great today as ever.
Larry Richardson, a federal biologist who has studied the cats for 20 years, is among them.
“It’s always dangerous when you make strides because people can get apathetic and think everything is OK,” Richardson says. “But I’m more concerned today than I was [10 years ago].
“I see a crash coming.”
Shrinking Habitat And Inbreeding
Florida panthers once enjoyed their perch atop the food chain across a vast dominion. They roamed the entire Southeast, from the Carolina mountains to the Louisiana marshes. They were all over the Florida peninsula, from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
Then they were hunted and their habitat was paved over and fractured until the cats were hemmed into the relatively tiny pocket of South Florida, a mere 5 percent of their original range.
The tight quarters meant major problems for the panther. By the mid-1990s, it had become so inbred that its male offspring were being born without testicles.
The panther is a subspecies of the cougars found in abundance across the Western United States. Scientists transplanted eight Texas cougars into the panther population in a last-ditch effort to solve the genetic problems and save the animal. It worked: the panther’s numbers have roughly quadrupled since then.
Also, after more than 20 years of capturing, collaring and tracking panthers, about 70 percent of what has been identified as the cat’s primary habitat zone has been protected.
“We have to tackle the remaining 30 percent to maintain continuity,” said Darrell Land, the panther team leader with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “I’m cautiously optimistic. We certainly see more panthers today, so I’m optimistic that preservation methods have worked.”
The Case Of No. 124
As the fiercely territorial panther’s population grows and young males continue to seek ranges outside protected public lands, the cats increasingly are running headfirst into the region’s ravenous growth and development machine.
The removal of 124 would be the second this year of a cat roaming near people in Big Cypress. In February, panther 79, an 11-year-old male nicknamed Don Juan, because he had fathered about 30 kittens, was removed from Big Cypress and shipped to a nature center outside Jacksonville after repeatedly killing livestock in the Pinecrest area.
Perhaps no case better illustrates the complexity of panther management and the uncertainty of the cat’s future than that of 124.
One of an estimated 14 to 17 reproducing females left, 124 has birthed litters each of the past two years, making her “one of the most significant panthers out there,” according to Laura Hartt, a panther expert with the National Wildlife Federation. It is rare for female panthers to give birth two years in a row.
Some suspect Loop Road residents and people who work at the environmental education center have been feeding deer in the area, which has attracted them and which, in turn, has attracted 124.
At a meeting in Naples this month, a team of scientists reaffirmed its position that 124 has not displayed the type of behavior that mandates removal.
Meanwhile, the Miccosukkee tribe continues to petition federal officials to take her out, warning the panther could be shot if she displays threatening behavior.
Still A Panther?
Then there’s the DNA question.
Biologists say the animals maintain certain characteristics that are purely Florida panther, such as facial structure.
But the DNA question is clearly an issue that makes panther advocates uncomfortable, raising the specter that the Florida panther is gone and the cross-bred cats that remain in South Florida don’t qualify for protection.
Ultimately, the underlying issue is the same: the Florida panther is in trouble. Where people differ is on why and what should happen next.
Meanwhile, back on Loop Road, alligators and wood storks hang out in roadside canals framed by a tangle of bald cypress, orchid-adorned slash pine and palm trees. On a mild mid-March afternoon, it can be hard to imagine there is something wrong if you’re just passing through.
It can be hard for the people who live here, too. Though Stacey Cypress, 18, lives on Loop Road, she had not heard about her tribe’s fight to remove 124 until a visitor told her about it last week.
Despite the rampant fear and anxiety sweeping the area detailed in tribal letters to wildlife officials, no one has told this new mother and caretaker of three younger siblings that a renegade panther was about.
Her 8-week-old daughter on her lap, Cypress sat on her front porch and nodded toward the lush wilderness.
“We’re living in their habitat,” Cypress says. “They’re endangered, right?
“So why move them out of here? What’s the point of that?”
Panthers on the Prowl: Florida’s big cats rebound
Last update: 22 May 2004
But remain at mercy of politics, science and growth
By DINAH VOYLES PULVER Environment Writer
This is the first of a two-part series on the plight of Florida’s efforts to rescue its panthers from the ill effects of encroaching humankind. Part two will appear in Monday’s editions.
They’re elusive and sightings are rare, but nearly three times as many Florida panthers now roam the wilds of South Florida than 20 years ago.
Efforts to bring the panther back from the brink of extinction produced dramatic success. Breeding and genetic restoration projects were accomplished. Vast tracts of habitat were saved. From an estimated 30 panthers, officials say the population now numbers at least 87, not including kittens.
The birth rate has outpaced the number of panthers that die in auto collisions, but biologists say territorial fights are a bigger and just as lethal threat.
Savvy and smart, panthers are efficient at prowling their territories for prey and water. But that prowess can’t always help when they’re attacked by disease, other panthers or even mosquitoes. It leaves them powerless in the face of the sprawling growth that threatens their habitat and competes for vacant land. The Florida panther is still endangered.
And, during the past year, simmering squabbles over panther protection have bubbled into very public debate among scientists, the state and federal agencies they work for, environmental groups and developers.
The crux of the dispute is over panther habitat — chiefly, how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluates panther habitat and recommends what developers should do to make up for damage.
The wildlife service oversees panther protection and recovery in Florida. The service works with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which also oversees panther protection and monitors the panther population. Both agencies work on restoration projects and conduct and support scientific research.
The federal agency’s panther plans put priority on preserving forested land, saying it’s the cat’s favored habitat. Others say different types of habitat, such as grassland and farmland, are just as important and that faulty science has prevented the federal agency from adopting that principle in permitting.
A federal complaint filed May 3 is the latest in a series of disputes and allegations.
Andrew Eller, a biologist with the federal wildlife service for 17 years, alleges in the complaint that his employer knowingly uses flawed science, which creates poor permitting decisions that allow crucial panther habitat to be destroyed.
A scientific panel, commissioned by the wildlife service, drew similar conclusions in December after reviewing research used by the state and federal agencies to set policy. The panel issued a report, scathing in some sections, saying the service should immediately stop using its modeling method that puts priority on forested habitat.
The panel of four experts from outside Florida also recommended the appointment of an independent scientific steering committee and a re-analysis of existing data. It chided the agencies for allowing panther research to lag.
The wildlife service also is embroiled in at least two lawsuits raising similar concerns brought against it by the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Panther Society.
Officials at the state and federal level have been taken aback by the fervor of their critics.
“We are the catalyst that has helped to understand how to protect the panther and its habitat,” said Jay Slack, field supervisor for the federal wildlife service in Vero Beach. “We are really serious about protecting the Florida panther. It’s the right thing to do and we are bringing all of our knowledge and resources to bear on doing just that.”
Both the state and federal agencies point to the huge volume of information collected, hundreds of thousands of protected acres and wildlife underpasses built under South Florida highways.
“If you look at where cats are today compared to where they were 20 years ago, it’s been an incredible effort with significant results to further the conservation of the species,” said Thomas Eason, bureau chief of the state wildlife commission’s bureau of wildlife diversity and conservation.
“It’s been at great effort and cost to a lot of people,” Eason said, including all the Floridians who bought the 1.4 million panther license plates sold since 1993. “We’ve thrown a lot of money and resources at it and I think it’s paid off for the panther.”
The commission has monitored 132 panthers during the past 23 years, officials said.
Darrell Land, panther coordinator for the wildlife commission, has worked in the panther program for 20 years.
“I feel pretty good about it but we shouldn’t dust off our hands and act like the job is done,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go before having a population we don’t have to manage.”
The cats “will always be in danger but we’re at a point where we can keep panthers here into the foreseeable future,” Land said.
The Florida panther, a genetically distinct part of the puma family, was placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1967 because of its dramatically declining numbers. Cats that once roamed the entire Eastern seaboard were confined to a shrinking population in the lower half of Florida.
In 1979, the state wildlife commission began capturing panthers and putting radio collars on them to track their movements. They learned where the panthers were, where they traveled and how they interacted with each other and their environment.
When the panthers still ranged throughout the Southeast, experts say they periodically crossbred with Texas pumas. When that ended, the genetic variation that sustains a healthy population gradually gave way to genetic problems that come with inbreeding.
In 1995, the state and federal governments began a genetic restoration project. Eight Texas females were released in South Florida and produced 17 kittens. The last of those females were removed last fall and retired to a private wildlife conservation center.
Genetic intervention will have to continue as long as there are fewer than 100 panthers, because the cats won’t be able to find mates they’re not related to, Land said. But the next phase won’t start until more studies are completed on the long-term results of the last effort.
The panthers, meanwhile, have problems all on their own, even without human impacts.
NATURE TAKES ITS TOLL
In 2002, 30 kittens were born from radio-collared females.
“That was really an amazing year,” said Layne Hamilton, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. But, fewer than half that year’s kittens survived.
“It’s a hard life. Sometimes the mothers aren’t real experienced at raising kittens,” Hamilton said. “There are a lot of things coming at the population that are challenging us in trying to manage it and allow it to grow.”
Biologists think two of the 2002 kittens may have died from anemia from mosquito bites. Hamilton said one biologist working that summer said the mosquitoes were so thick he could hardly breathe.
Predators, road kills and feline leukemia are among the other dangers, but biologists say the biggest cause of death is territorial aggression. Hamilton said most male panthers don’t live past 18 months because they’re killed by other males, Hamilton said.
Last August biologists released two panther siblings, a male and a female, orphaned about a year earlier when an uncollared male killed their mother. Three months later, the young male was killed, apparently by the male that killed his mother. Meanwhile, the female may be pregnant by that same male.
“It’s kind of a soap opera out there,” Hamilton said. “It’s survival of the fittest.”
DEVELOPME NT VS. PANTHERS
The lack of agreement among experts about precisely what makes up ideal habitat creates confusion and conflict among developers, their consultants, environmental groups and the agencies involved in panther protection.
Generally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for permitting development projects. If the Corps decides the project may impact an endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service is called in.
The service, for example, consults on projects that may affect panthers within a designated priority area in Southwest Florida that includes Big Cypress Swamp, the Everglades and several preservation areas.
The permitting guidelines say the agencies are to use the best available science to evaluate direct and indirect impacts and minimize impacts where possible.
Environmental groups argue that 13,000 acres of habitat have been destroyed by development in South Florida. But the wildlife service says not all of the permitted development destroys habitat. The habitat may be disturbed and then later used again by panthers.
They say of 11,263 acres of development permitted since January 2002, 6,496 acres have been permanently preserved or improved by developers through such projects as removing exotic species and restoring native landscapes.
Since 2000, the wildlife service has been working on new guidelines to “ensure the survival and recovery of the panther.” A new panther habitat conservation plan and a landscape conservation plan to help guide property owners, agencies and permitters are expected to be released later this year, said Bert Byers, spokesman for the wildlife service’s Vero Beach regional office. The habitat plan also will include a new priority area map that will increase the area within which permit applications require federal review.
The wildlife service also is working on a revised recovery plan. The plans, required for all endangered species, spell out how the service hopes to bring the animals back to the point they can be removed from the endangered list.
The current recovery panther plan, developed in conjunction with the state and other interested parties, was last revised in 1995. Initially the service said the new plan would be ready this fall, but now reports it probably won’t be ready until 2005.
It frustrates environmental groups that the federal government moves so slowly, said Karen Hill, vice president of the Florida Panther Society.
“They keep saying they’re going to do something but we have yet to see anything,” Hill said. “The new conservation strategy for panther habitat has been dragging for years.”
The environmental groups’ lawsuit mentions that delay, stating the federal government has failed to produce “a meaningful plan” to guide development and uses bad science to issue permits.
“Developers are rapidly mining, bulldozing, clearing and paving the natural landscapes needed for the panther to survive,” the suit states.
In one suit, the environmental group wants to stop the federal permit for a 3,212-acre limerock-mining pit in Fort Myers. The groups say the buffers and other trade-offs proposed for the Florida Rock mine will not make up for the isolation of panther territories and the damage to more than 5,000 acres.
“If this rate of habitat loss keeps up over the next five to 10 years, the panthers would be facing extinction,” said the panther society’s Hill.
Both lawsuits were filed in the District Court in Washington, D.C.
In the other suit, the groups allege the service has failed to protect the panther by ignoring the concerns of its own biologists and other scientists and by putting too much emphasis on protecting forested lands and not enough on other kinds of habitat that panthers also use.
John Kostyack, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, said the wildlife groups don’t disagree with “every aspect of federal policy.”
“We praise them for the acquisitions and the wildlife crossing,” Kostyack said. “And the restoration was a big success.”
However, Kostyack said the results of the recent reviews mean “we’re going to have to change the way they develop in South Florida.”
The success of the genetic restoration program could serve as a model for a similar effort to preserve habitat, said Hill.
“The panthers were facing genetic crisis and all the agencies and conservation groups came together and did what needed to be done to save the panthers,” she said. “That’s what needs to happen again.”
Panther/cougar program appears to be working April 2004
FT. MYERS, FL (AP) — Wildlife experts say the program that put eight Texas cougars into the wilds of Florida to help the endangered Florida panther to survive is working.
Biologists say five of the eight animals released in south Florida died in the wild. (killed by hunters) The others were recaptured and removed last year, after apparently doing their jobs. (and the remaining three cats were accidently sent by the state to a canned hunt operation in TX)
If NOT for those cats, state biologists say the Florida panther would be nearly extinct today. Before 1995, the population was estimated between 30 and 50 animals. The latest estimate is between 80 and 100.
Wildlife officials released the eight female Texas cougars in Big Cypress, Everglades National Park and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Experts say the new cats are still genuine Florida panthers, since the two subspecies likely mated when their ranges overlapped more than 100 years ago.
Common Names: Cougar, Puma, Panther,
Mountain Lion, Catamount Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata) Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Genus: Felinae (Puma) Species: concolor Sub-species:
Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I Misc: The cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.
The cougar is extremely agile and has great jumping power and may leap from the ground up to a height of 18 feet into a tree. It is a good swimmer but prefers not to enter the water. Sight is its most acute sense with a good sense of hearing, but is thought to have a poorly developed sense of smell.
Size and Appearance: The cougar is the largest cat in the genus “felis”, and is comparable in size as the leopard. They vary in length from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches, and height from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder. Weight can vary greatly, between 75 and 250 pounds. They have a long body with a small head, short face, and a long neck and tail. They are powerfully built, and the hind legs are larger than the front. The ears are small, short and rounded.
Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.
Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.
Reproduction and Offspring: There is no fixed mating season, but in North America, the majority of births occur between late winter and early spring. Females tend to reproduce every other year, and give birth to litters of 1 – 6 (usually 2-3) kittens after a gestation of 90-96 days. Mothers give birth to their young in dens that are lined with moss or vegetation, usually in rock shelters, crevices, piles of rocks, thickets, caves, or some other protected place. Kittens weigh approximately 7-16 ounces at birth, and have spotted coats until they are around 6 months old. They will continue to nurse for 3 or more months, but will begin to take meat at 6 weeks. The kittens will remain with their mothers until they are 1-2 years old, and after separating, siblings will remain together for another 2-3 months. Females reach sexual maturity around 2.5 and males around 3 years. They will not begin to reproduce until they have established themselves a permanent home area. The may remain reproductive until 12 years of age for females, and 20 years for males.
In captivity, cougars have lived over 20 years, as compared to 8 – 10 in the wild. At Big Cat Rescue one cougar lived to one month shy of 30 years.
Social System and Communication: Cougars are solitary cats and will avoid other individuals except for during mating. They communicate by the use visual and olfactory signals, and the males regularly make scrapes in the soil or snow. Their vocalizations include growls, hisses, and bird-like whistles. They purr like the domestic cats, and during estrus, the females give off loud, hair-raising screams. Hear our purrs, hisses, snarls, calls, and growl sounds HERE
Hunting and Diet: Cougars primarily feed on large mammals, preferring deer, but they will also eat Coyotes, Porcupines, Beaver, mice marmots, hares, raccoons, birds and even grasshoppers. They kill by stalking to within 30 feet of their prey before pouncing from its hiding place. It leaps onto its victim’s back and bites into the neck and holds with its sharp claws.
Principal Threats: According to 2001 statistics provided from actual sales of hunting permits, almost 2100 cougars are still being killed each year. This figure does not include all the cougars killed by hunters who do not buy licenses nor report their kills. Less than 3% of our population are hunters but they kill over 100 million animals each year for sport.
Status: CITES: Appendix I, USDI: Endangered
2003 Felid TAG recommendation: Puma (Puma concolor). A widely held species, the Felid TAG is urging the elimination of this species from collections, whenever possible, in favor of similar-sized, but rarer SSP or PMP felid species. Only acquisition of pumas needed for education or zoogeographic exhibit themes is recommended. With the exception of the Florida panther, no breeding is recommended. The present zoo population of pumas is comprised of more than 200 individuals, and the studbook keeper is striving to reduce this number to 120 or less. In cases of exhibition need, new animals should be acquired from other AZA institutions or, alternatively, cubs from sanctuary or rescue programs.
How rare is this cat ? The International Species Information Service lists 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 being in the U.S.
and it certainly is appropriate for a cougar who was born into the pet trade in 1995 in Texas, was shipped to New York and then traveled to a rescue center in South Florida before taking the last road trip, at the age of 18, to her forever home at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
This folder of images will be updated as they come in from the Big Cat Rescue team.
From a former volunteer:
Hello! Here is some basic information about Reise the cougar and the information I have gathered from my time at SFWRC.
Reise (pronounced rise-uh) is a Texan cougar who had been at South Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for 15 years. She is believed to be around 18-19 years of age. She was confiscated in New York from a drug dealer where she was kept in a small apartment having been fed domestic cat food and extremely undernourished with worms. Her illegal owner was only fined $500, which goes to show how under enforced big cat regulations can be.
She was brought to SFWRC where she began a long recovery after suffering years of abuse. Unfortunately, she was badly de-clawed as a cub by her original breeder. Reise had surgery to fix a lame front paw. The nail was growing back into the paw and trying to invade bone. Dr. Mormane, a veterinarian, generously donated his time to fix Reise’s foot for free.
Several toes had the same issue, but one of them was very bad. As Dr. Mornane began stitching, they discovered that there’s no padding left on Reise’s toe on her front right paw. That meant any more trimming and she’ll bone on bone.
Dr. Mormane ruled that from now on, her nails will have to be filed. Dr. Mornane had generously agreed to fly in every 3-4 months to take care of this himself. Reise’s paw has healed tremendously from what it once was. After the surgery (which, had Dr. Mormane not paid for himself, would have cost the sanctuary over $300), Reise’s demeanor immediately changed as she became more playful and active.
One of the most vocal cats at the sanctuary, Reise is capable of making a plethora of different noises to signal her different moods. One of my favorites is her signature “greeting” squeak that she repeatedly shows off throughout the day. She is very friendly and I discovered a few months ago that she likes frozen ice balls to swat around. I’d wanted to try bloodcicles with her, but I had no idea where to get blood, haha.
Reise is generally a very even tempered cat. For whatever reason, she prefers men over women. She also loves to roll around on her back when she’s in a playful mood, which is most of the time. You’ll notice she has very cute black dots on her nose and a very stocky, cougar-like frame. At SFWRC, she spent a lot of time up on her perch lounging around. She is very bright and attentive to her surroundings. If a bird flies too close to her enclosure, she’s sure to stalk it. To my knowledge, she’s never consumed a live animal.
I began volunteering at SFWRC almost exactly a year ago. Seeing as I lived about an hour north, I came down to help around once or twice a month. I enjoyed helping to clean the enclosures- hosing down poop and such (always from the outside, SFWRC was protected contact with touching allowed through the cage and only behind the animal’s face), feed the animals, change their water, get to know their individual personalities, and create enrichment ideas. Each animal reacted differently to different EEDs.
Watching them be curious and explore new “inventions” was probably my favorite aspect of helping out the cats. Exotic pet education was also a HUGE principle of the sanctuary. In May, two dedicated volunteers helped me organize a tour of SFWRC with fifteen kids from our school. We gave them a tour of the animals and educated them about the animal’s histories, what it takes to take care of a big cat (basically facts that would deter them from ever considering it), and most importantly, the exotic pet trade.
I always knew the enclosures could do much better, IE larger and more naturalistic with environmental enrichment devices. Dirk did, everybody did.
The message of the sanctuary was that big cats don’t belong in captivity, but if they have to be (due to irresponsible exotic pet owners), we would like to give them a safe home, free from abuse. Dirk’s goal was to relocate to somewhere more spacious, like northern Florida, and expand the cats’ enclosures.
Generally, the sanctuary flew under the public radar because it never advertised things like “Come play with the kitties!” because that was totally against the idea of the sanctuary. Because the sanctuary wasn’t a publicity stunt, it also meant it was constantly under financial siege. SFWRC relied solely on volunteers. All the credit goes to those volunteers who were there full time and always took care of the cats, they kept the sanctuary running for as long as it did.
From the time I volunteered there to the time it was closed, SFWRC housed one Siberian tiger, one African lion, one Java macaque, one Rhesus macaque, one serval/caracal mix, one Bengal tiger, two FL panthers, two cougars, and two leopards (although I believe that one of the leopards, Spotty, had to have some jaguar in him, due to his stocky appearance, wide face, and larger, darker rosettes with multiple dots in side them).
All of these cats/monkeys were older animals. Alex, the African lion, passed away in February from old age (he was nearly thirty, an incredible feat for a captive lion!). He was confiscated from an unfit owner in Berea, KY where he was saved from being euthanized. Benny, the Java macaque, also passed away from old age (at around 30 years).
Sinbad, the Siberian tiger, tragically passed away in March from a rattlesnake bite. Sinbad came from a private owner who could not take care of him. He was only six when he passed.
Nicky, a leopard, came from an alligator wrestling tourist attraction where she was carted around to children’s parties in a tiny crate on Hwy 41.
Spotty, the other leopard (or possible jaguar mix?) was confiscated from a Palm Beach dealer who used him as a “guard dog” for a construction site. He was constantly teased and poked with brooms, causing him to be extremely aggressive to this day. He is believed to be around 20 years of age.
As you already know, Jojo came from an illegal breeder who purposefully crossbred two distinct species before arriving at SFWRC, creating a medical mess.
Khrishna, the Bengal tiger, is around 6 years old. He was confiscated at 1.5 years of age from Parrot Jungle Island where he was leased to a movie production company.
Nola, a sweet cougar with feline distemper and cerebellar hypoplasia, was confiscated from a woman walking her on a leash at Miami Beach. When officers asked her for her license, she pulled out her driver’s license…
Anyway, I’m sorry this message has been so long, there is just so much to say for all these animals. As sad as it is to say goodbye to them, I am extremely excited, optimistic, and happy for all of them as they will enjoy the type of habitats and natural stimulation they deserve. I can’t wait for the day when I can visit BCR and the other facilities to see how the cats are doing.
Water bowl in Reise cougar’s cage at SFWRC the day of the rescue