A single bobcat requires 5 square miles of territory in order to have enough prey to support him. All exotic cats, male and female, spray to mark their boundaries. Except for an overlapping of territory during mating the cats patrol and defend their boundaries against other cats and other top predators. These boundaries must be fiercely guarded or the cats will starve to death. If two wild cats find themselves in the same area they will fight to the death. That is why respecting these scent marked boundary lines is so important to them.
…the cat is being dumped into some other cat’s territory
and one of them is going to die.
Bobcats will almost never show themselves, so if you see one it may mean that development around you has taken his home or that sport hunters have taken his food. Nature is perfectly balanced until man enters the scene with a gun. If you are living in an area where a wild cat has called home and the cat is transported to another suitable habitat, then you can be sure the cat is being dumped into some other cat’s territory and one of them is going to die. You may reason that your home is in a busy city environment and the cat is in peril because it is crossing busy highways and coming in close contact with people with guns. That is true and that is sad but relocating the cat is not the answer.
Bobcats are smart and can live right alongside people and stay out of trouble. They are a great asset as they prey upon rats and help control disease by keeping the vermin population in check. Nature is perfectly balanced until man steps in and starts trying to eliminate key animals in the cycle of life.
I went outside to feed the birds today and saw a bobcat.
He (or she) was about 200 feet away, resting on the ground in front of the compost pile.
Compost piles are wildlife magnets. The odiferous porridge of kitchen wastes attracts mammals large and small. I’ve watched foxes and raccoons explore these bins of human detritus, but this was the first time a bobcat showed interest in the family dumping ground for avocado pits, eggshells, burnt rice and apple cores.
The bobcat, a tawny mass of cropped fur and pointy ears, looked comfortable. Like an oversized house cat who had just polished off a hearty meal, he rested contentedly on the matted grass. We eyed each other from afar. I squatted low, to appear less threatening. The cat simply stared in my direction, tufted ears at full attention, assessing the menace.
Reluctant to miss anything, but eager to immortalize this special moment, I rose slowly and slipped back into the house. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t hanging on the hook next to the kitchen door as I assumed it would be.
Not wanting to waste precious time searching the house, I eased back outside. By then, the bobcat had risen, but remained in the same place.
The feral feline must have realized (correctly) that I was harmless, because he proceeded to stretch with a long, leisurely gee-I-wish-you-hadn’t-disturbed-me arch of the back. Standing my ground, I watched in awe.
Moments later, the object of my attention ambled off toward a more sheltered environ. There was nothing frantic or fearful about his movements. His graceful gait was slow and steady. I watched as he rounded the corner, disappearing from sight. Wanting more, I followed in his wake, moving as quietly as my bare feet would allow.
As I approached, I noticed the bobcat had paused beneath the overhanging branches of a nearby mulberry tree. The low-hanging limbs of the leafy fruit tree provided a tangled web that blended perfectly with his reddish-brown fur. When I rounded the corner, the cat caught sight of me. He responded by moving toward the woods. My eyes followed his trail for an instant before he vanished into the brambly undergrowth.
My one-on-one moment with nature was over. My only photographs were mental snapshots of the bobcat’s movements. I rushed back inside, eager to share my experience with Ralph and Toby.
Although this was the first time I’ve seen a bobcat by the compost pile, it was not my first sighting. On at least a half dozen occasions, I’ve chanced upon bobcats on the property. Each encounter has been spectacular, a cherished gift. But these experiences concern me, too. I’m not scared for myself or for the safety of others, but for the bobcats themselves. Every peek into the waning wilderness reminds me of what we have to lose.
So much untamed land has already been developed. What will happen to the bobcats, bears, deer, foxes and coyotes when people eliminate even more woods to make way for shopping centers, residential communities and industrial complexes?
The Florida panther is endangered. According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), only about 100 of these magnificent mammals remain in the wild. About a million bobcats roam throughout North America. In Florida, they are neither endangered nor threatened. But how long can that last?
Bobcats are solitary hunters. A male needs about 4,900 acres of field and forest in order to supply its carnivorous needs. A female needs 2,900 acres. That’s so much land. While these dog-size consumers of rats, mice, birds and rabbits can adapt to eating out of compost piles, foraging through trash cans and licking the remains of pet food bowls, it’s unlikely suburban residents will welcome their arrival to the neighborhood. Any nondomesticated creature that wanders into suburbia is more apt to arouse panic than peaceful observation and gratitude.
That’s not how I feel. I’m grateful for any chance to see a wild animal — large or small, on foot, wing or water.
I went out to feed the birds today and wound up feeding my own insatiable appetite for wildlife encounters. The few minutes the bobcat and I shared made an impression that will last for years. Will moments like this continue to happen? I don’t know, but I hope they will. I hope time is gentle to bobcats and the many other creatures whose fate relies heavily on the course of human actions.
Keep this in mind before you call someone and ask them to relocate a wild animal. It is against the law for a trapper to relocate a problem animal. They have to kill him or her by state law.
1/29/2009 The following is the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s position on killing nuisance bobcats instead of relocating them or allowing them to be given sanctuary at Big Cat Rescue and other such sanctuaries.
“We sincerely appreciate and share your concerns for Florida’s wildlife, particularly in the recent incident in which a bobcat was euthanized after it was captured by a nuisance wildlife trapper in an Orlando community.
Nobody likes to see an animal killed like this, whether the reason makes sense biologically or for public safety, or not. In fact, allowing nuisance animals to be euthanized is something we would rather not do, and we consider that to be a last resort. This particular incident is very sad and unfortunate, but as is often the case, it may have resulted from inappropriate behavior by people.
The staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is dedicated to wildlife conservation, which means protecting and managing wildlife species. So allowing an animal like this bobcat to be euthanized may seem counter to our agency’s mission. But, as unfortunate as it is, this bobcat was an example of an animal for which there was no good alternative other than euthanasia.
Many people have called our agency to ask why this bobcat couldn’t be taken to a zoo or other type of captive wildlife facility. The reason is that it’s difficult or impossible for many animals taken from the wild to adapt to living in a captive situation. As a result, most captive wildlife facilities are hesitant to take them because the animals become stressed, are subject to illness, fight with other animals and introduce disease into the facility.
People also asked why it couldn’t be relocated to the wild. There are many reasons for this, which are explained below, but the bottom line is that this animal had become too accustomed to being around people and no longer had much fear of them.
How this unnatural behavior happened is unknown, but the fact remains that it did. The bobcat was no longer acting like a wild bobcat. People in the community may have allowed it to eat pet food, or may even have set out food specifically for the bobcat. Or maybe nobody did anything to discourage it from hanging around. Maybe at first it was a novelty to see a bobcat up close, perhaps a good photo opportunity. So people tiptoed around the bobcat, and nobody tried to scare it away.
Or maybe the bobcat was sick; sick animals often exhibit unnatural behaviors and sometimes may lose their fear of people.
A wild animal that loses its fear and becomes comfortable around people, for whatever reason, is not a wild animal you want in your neighborhood. An animal like this becomes unpredictable and could easily injure someone. If it is sick and attacks someone the problems are even worse.
Moving an animal such as this bobcat provides an opportunity for it to become the same problem animal in a different neighborhood, or perhaps it could even spread disease to other wild animals in a new area.
Studies have shown that many relocated wild animals often try to return home – no matter how far away home is. Along the way an animal like this bobcat may find another neighborhood whose residents offer the same amenities – generally easy meals and few threats to its safety. The nuisance problems then start all over again in a new community.
Relocated animals cross unfamiliar roads and often get hit and injured or killed by vehicles. And, they end up in another bobcat’s established territory, alone and unfamiliar with the lay of the land. They often fall victim to fights that are frequently won by the resident animal.
The best solution to wild animals becoming nuisance animals is people – you and me – making sure that our actions don’t cause wild animals to change their behaviors. The key is in knowing how to live with them. Even in a state with seemingly runaway development, we can and often do co-exist with many wild animals. If people do the right things, then harm usually won’t come to either us or the animals.
If this is to work, it may require some people to modify their own behavior. How much you have to modify often depends upon where you live or how recently your neighborhood was built. It is often a real benefit to live right next to wetlands or woods, but if you do, you probably have lots of wildlife neighbors, some of which are looking for easy meals.
One of the surest ways to make a wild animal lose its fear of people and become a nuisance is to leave your pet’s food outside. For that matter, leaving any kind of food outside can attract wild critters. If we leave our garbage in an unsecured trash can, it can become a buffet for raccoons, bears, opossums and other wild animals. The seemingly innocuous birdfeeders can sometimes attract much more than birds. Even compost piles are heavenly to some wildlife. Unfortunately, in the end, all of these foods that humans provide unwittingly to wild critters can lead to the death of those wild critters who are so tempted by them.
We are all affected when the wild animals become used to people, then are branded nuisances and are sentenced to death. Nobody likes that, but often people can make small changes in their actions and prevent it from happening.
I hope this helps you understand some of the issues we face when humans and wildlife interact in these situations, as well as some of the solutions.
You may also find the enclosed document useful. It explains some of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s nuisance wildlife rules and provides a little more information about why it’s rarely a good idea to relocate wildlife.
Again, thank you for your heartfelt concern, and please know that we share many of your concerns.
FWC Citizen Services”
Update 2010: Thanks to so many Big Cat Rescuers showing up to ask the FWC to protect the bobcat, they revised their ruling that all trapped bobcats must be killed to say that the bobcat must be released as close to the point of pick up as possible and that it must be on at least 40 acres, in the same county and there must be a signed approval for release by the owner of the property OR the bobcat has to be killed.
Why so many cougar attacks and cougar sightings?
Every day there is a story in a paper somewhere in the U.S. about cougar or mountain lion sightings in areas where the cats have not existed in the wild in over 100 years. Why is that? Could it possibly be that despite the fact that extinction rates are more than 1000 times greater than they should be due to the uncontrolled population growth of man and our extermination of everything in our path, the cougar is making a come back? That is what the fish and game departments across the country are claiming, but that is because they make their money from the issuance of permits to kill big cats. Hunters have wiped out the Jaguar for the most part and the cougar only exists in a few areas. Fish and game “experts” would have us believe that despite the fact that the big cats have been driven to extinction in most of their ranges around the world, that miraculously, the much-prized-trophy-cougar is alive and well and a public menace to boot.
Consider a much more likely scenario: The cougars who are being spotted in areas where they haven’t lived in up to 200 years, who are brazen enough to walk through subdivisions, and nap in trees above the family mini van, and who are living off eating dogs and cats and other domestic animals are the pets and captive born breeders turned loose due to the new law that makes it illegal to sell cougars across state lines. The Captive Wild Animal Safety Act was signed into law in Dec. 2003 by President Bush and immediately there was a flurry of cougar sightings. In every case the stories paint a portrait of a cougar nonchalantly strolling through a neighborhood. This is the behaviour of an animal born and raised around people, not a wild animal.
They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car
turned out to be declawed.
Delighted with the prospect of being able to sell permits to shoot the majestic cats the department of natural resources keeps assuring the public that these are wild cougars and that blasting them out of the trees is done in the name of public safety. They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car turned out to be declawed.
Big Cat Rescue tracked the calls we received from people trying to get rid of unwanted big cats over the past decade:
Unwanted We Took Found We Offered We Took
Big Cats These Homes To Take These
1999 55 13 * * 7 tigers, 2 cougars, 2 bobcats, 2 servals
2000 54 11 * * 7 tigers, 2 jungle cats + hybrids
2001 78 10 6 * 2 lions, 4 bobcats + hybrids
2002 74 4 0 * 2 tigers, 1 leopard, 1 bobcat
2003 312 8 4 * 2 jaguars, 1 leopard, 3 bobcats, + hybrids
2004 110 6 3 * 5 tigers, 1 lion
2005 94 9 2 * 6 tigers, 3 cougars; Ares, Artemis, Orion
2006 79 0 0 * none other than hybrids
2007 67 13 1 * 6 tigers, 2 lions, 5 rehab bobcats *who are not incl in list of abandoned cats
2008 85 3 0 22 2 tigers, 1 liger: Cookie, Alex, Freckles
2009 50 2 0 17 1 cougar, 1 serval; Sophia and Desiree
2010 89 9 1 53 3 cougars, Narla, Freddy, Sassy, 5 bobcats and a serval named Servie
1147 88 17
…these cats are being turned loose to fend
Every year that number was growing dramatically, but in the year following the new law prohibiting the sale of big cats across state lines as pets, the number dropped by 1/3. The only other marginal drop was right after 9/11 and that coincided with a huge drop in discretionary spending.
It is a shame that these cats are being turned loose to fend for themselves. They don’t have the skills and some cases don’t even have the claws, to catch their own food. Those who are not shot will probably starve to death and in time we will start to see a drop in the number of sightings reported. The only good news is that this new federal law has been effective at curbing the number of cougars and lions that are being born for a life of misery and captivity.
People are still getting around the prohibition on big cats as pets by calling themselves educators or sanctuaries. Big Cat Rescue is working hard to close the loopholes in the laws that allow people to exploit big cats for profit. Please bookmark our page on Laws to keep up on the latest efforts to make the world a safer place for people and the exotic cats.
How do the wildlife agencies make it worse?
Nature has become purposely imbalanced by our wildlife agencies in order to insure that there are plenty of animals to be killed for fun and profit. Cougars prefer deer and rabbits to people, but our wildlife departments make money from selling permits to the 5% of our population that enjoying killing the cougar’s natural prey. This is often done in excess so that the cougars appear to be a public menace so that the state’s fish and game departments can then gain public support to sell the permits to kill the highly prized cougars.
Fact: Only 5% (12.5 million) of our population are hunters, yet they kill over 115
million animals each year for fun.
These are just the animals that licensed hunters report killing and do not include all the animals who are poached each year by those who believe that they are above the law. Even more despicable are the canned hunts where far too many exotic cats end up when they are discarded from zoos, circus acts and pet owners. Although it is illegal to kill most endangered species, the practice is common and for the right price and a guarantee of secrecy trophy hunters can kill a tiger or leopard while it sits in a cage. If this isn’t bad enough consider the fact that they don’t want to ruin the trophy and will therefore aim for areas that cause a slow and painful death.
Wild cats do not purchase hunting licenses and most state wildlife managers draw their pay from revenue derived from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. That, in brief, is what is wrong with wildlife management in America. In the US the decisions to protect or destroy, conserve or control, restore populations or reduce them are made by the interest of hunters. The 93% of Americans who do not hunt have been effectively excluded from the decision making process. Now that more caring people are trying to get involved, the state’s are fighting as never before to keep them out. Understanding the hunter’s hold on wildlife is the critical first step to loosening that grip.
Hunting and fishing licenses are not simply issued by the state, but sold for a fee. Normally, these fees would be deposited in a state’s general treasury, and from there appropriated to whatever state programs the public, acting through their elected legislators, consider important. Instead, however, the conservation lobby persuaded state legislatures to dedicate hunting and fishing license fees to conservation programs. This means that license fees go directly to the state’s wildlife management agency, effectively insulating it from the legislature’s – and thereby the public’s – most effective means of oversight, the power of the purse. In a very real sense, state wildlife agency staff are not public servants, they are employees of the hunters and fishers whose license fees fund their programs and pay their salaries.
In 2006 12.5 million hunters spent $23 billion on their sport of which $642,069,054 went to wildlife agencies. 71 million wildlife watchers spent $45 billion in 2001, nearly twice as much as hunters, a fact generally ignored by state wildlife agencies when they tout the economic benefits of hunting. Since wildlife watchers do not have to purchase licenses or tags and they do not pay a tax on their equipment, the percentage of their $45 billion that went to wildlife agencies was exactly zero. Who do you think the wildlife agencies are working for?
In 2006 Thirty-one percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older fed, observed, or photographed wildlife. These wildlife watchers increased in number by 8% from 2001 to 2006. Their expenditures for wildlife-watching equipment (binoculars, cameras, etc.) increased by 20% and for wildlife-watching trips by 40%.
The mass murder and manipulation of wild animals is just another business. Hunters are a tiny minority, and it’s crucial to them that the millions of people who don’t hunt not be awakened from their long sleep and become anti hunting. (Williams 1990) In 1995 the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS attempted to compile information about the structure of the wildlife commissions across the nation. Seventeen states refused to respond, indicating their disdain for animal lover’s involvement in THEIR business. The remaining states admitted that their boards are dominated by consumptive wildlife users. Several of these are people who own canned hunting operations. Most important is to note, that by their own admission, none of their commission members are opposed to hunting. Consider now the fact that another poll of the public, taken the same year, showed that 93% do not hunt and that most Americans are opposed to the brutal practice. Clearly these governing boards are not representing the majority of the people in their wildlife management policies.
The myth that we have been expected to buy into says; “We have to kill animals so that they don’t over populate and starve to death.” The fact is that habitat is managed for maximum deer and duck numbers; wildlife is trapped and transplanted to the killing fields; fires are set; trees are planted or mown down; fields are flooded and fields are drained all to maximize the numbers of animals available to hunters for the joy of killing. Natural predators, such as Cougars, Bobcats, Lynx, Wolves and Coyotes are killed by the thousands so that they don’t compete with the hunters.
The predominance of Aldo Leopold’s philosophy in wildlife management assures that our incredible war on wildlife can continue indefinitely. It is, in fact, the only war in history conducted by rules that were deliberately designed to keep it from ending. The conservation philosophy was created to guarantee that animals will continue to suffer and die at the hands of hunters forever. It is a philosophy of animal abuse in perpetuity.
Florida spends more on wildlife law enforcement than it does on wildlife and fisheries management combined. This is typical of most states. We expect to pay our officers to protect the unbridled exploitation of our state’s wildlife, but the bulk of the budget is spent to ensure that the licensed hunters and anglers are obeying the law regarding size, weight and number of kills. These expenditures would be virtually un necessary if there were no hunting. This fact undermines the assertion made by the hunting industry that it pays for wildlife and parks. At the very best, hunters pay to produce lots of animals that they want to kill and pay to enforce regulations to keep each other from killing too many of them or in an illegal
The numbers killed are staggering. These figures all came from reported kills, in just one recent year, by licensed hunters and do not include
animals that were killed illegally:
As people become more enlightened fewer and fewer people each year are taking up hunting as a sport. To change this trend, the hunters and the state’s wildlife agencies are promoting hunting to children. Faced with declining numbers of hunters and an increasing population of non consumptive wildlife users, the states are circling the wagons to protect hunting. Instead of seriously seeking alternative sources of funding, ways to include the non hunting public, and management that emphasizes non hunted species, they are trying to increase hunter numbers so that they don’t have to change the status quo. Your tax dollars are paying for promotional campaigns to urge children as young as 6 to get involved in trapping and killing animals because it has been discovered that if a child is not exposed to this sort of violence during their formative years, they will be very unlikely to be able to stomach the thought of killing for pleasure as an adult. Animal abuse is directly linked to human abuse and murder.
For more details read: Teach Our Children.
Five percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older, 12.5 million people, hunted in 2006. The number of all hunters declined by 4% from 2001 to 2006. Wildlife agencies are now targeting children as young as 10 and women as the hunters of the future by portraying the killing of animals as a way to feel empowered in their world. See USFWS 2006 report.
What can we do to stop the violence?
The answer lies in becoming active and speaking out. Most of us feel the same way, but we aren’t being heard, because we are standing idly by waiting for someone else to do the right thing. Most wildlife commissioners are appointed by the governor.
Use your state’s freedom of information act to find out how members are appointed to your board and what their position really is on wildlife protection. Make sure that plenty of non hunters attend each meeting of your wildlife commission. Make sure that they attend to important issues like hound hunting, baiting, long trap check intervals, hunting contests, children recruitment policies and how animals are identified as being so unworthy of protection that there is unlimited, open season on their killing.
Speak out calmly and professionally. To act irrational and thus label all people who care as being unstable won’t help the animals. Ask the commission to schedule votes on these issues and to go on the record about their support of them. Get the press involved to cover the meetings and the failure of the commission to act in favour of reasonable wildlife protection measures. The media wants to print articles that will be favourable to the masses and the masses have said that they are not in favour of hunting.
Work to change the composition of the commission to include members who are not hunters. Lobby the governor’s office to appoint qualified candidates who represent the majority of the people in your state. If these candidates are continually passed over in favour of less
qualified hunters, then let the media know about it. Work with your state legislator so see if perhaps a ballot initiative might be implemented to restructure the commission.
Lobby members of the appropriate committees in your state legislature to earmark general funds for the support of the wildlife department. With enough funding we can demand that our concerns be seriously addressed by the commission and the department.
If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find them on line by clicking on the lion at the left.
115 million animals are counting on YOU to speak out for them this year.
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.
Tell the FWC Commissioners to oppose the draft position statement. Attend the upcoming FWC meeting in Ft. Lauderdale on September 2nd, 2015 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. The FWC will be voting on the revised statement as well as finalizing rules for the impending bear hunt.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains that for the Florida Panther to go from Endangered to Threatened there would have to be at least 2 populations of Florida Panthers of at least 240 animals each. For the Florida Panther to be healthy enough to sustain populations for the next 100 years there would have to be at least 3 populations of 240 animals each. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) says there are currently 100-180 Florida Panthers.
Back up a minute. 100-180? That is a huge gap and for many years we’ve been told that Florida Panthers number less than 100, so why is it that now, when they are trying to rush through a proposal to give up on the Florida Panther, is the FWC saying there could be 180 of the sleek, elegant cats? No one has guessed such a high estimate before now. But even if they were right, that is a far cry from the 720 Florida Panthers needed to ensure their survival.
If you take a look at the presentation that will be shown to the Commissioners on Tuesday you will see that it concludes that the state of Florida should abandon plans for reintroduction of the Florida Panther outside of its very small area, of mostly flooded Everglades territory, and implies that:
1. There aren’t many deer or other prey animals left there for hunters to shoot anyway.
2. If Florida Panther are allowed to migrate outside of the Everglades they will kill the deer and other prey species that hunters want to shoot.
3. People are afraid to live near Florida Panthers and Florida Bears.
Let’s Take Those Reasons One at a Time
1. There Isn’t Enough Prey in Florida Panther Territory
That may well be true, but it isn’t the Florida Panther’s fault. The Florida Panther has been struggling to survive due to habitat destruction, human hunting of the prey species the big cats need to survive, and the FWC’s refusal to ban the private possession of exotic animals, which has resulted in discarded pythons and other exotic reptiles, sucking the Everglades dry of just about every species living there. If the FWC really cares about providing better Florida Panther habitat in southern Florida, then it needs to ban hunting there and ban the private possession of exotic animals in the state.
The report states that it is based primarily on camera trap studies from April to September 2014, but no study could be complete without covering a full year as patterns change based on weather, tourists, hunting and breeding seasons. The report also stated that it couldn’t tell un collared cats apart, other than sometimes by sex, so the current report is based on many assumptions that haven’t been proven. Unlike tigers who can be identified by their stripe patterns, the camera trap imagery is insufficient to determine if researchers saw 131 un-collared Florida Panthers or if they saw 1 Florida Panther 100 times or so… or anywhere in between.
2. If the Florida Panther Migrates North It Will Kill More Deer
Yes, that’s how nature works. No one needs to kill wild animals to “manage” them, if you get out of the way and let Nature do her thing.
The report cites that from 2004-2015 106 hobby farm animals (like backyard chickens) and domestic pet deaths (mostly free roaming cats) were blamed on Florida Panthers and 34 calf deaths were blamed on the cat. The report doesn’t say how they determined the culprit was the Florida Panther, (rather than free roaming dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc.) but even giving the FWC the benefit of the doubt, compare those 140 losses to the more than 165 Florida Panthers who were killed by car strikes during the same period and tell me who the real menace is here?
The report did state that the hobby animals and domestic pets, that were thought to have been killed by Florida Panthers, was a “very small proportion” of the Panther’s diet, but if you do the math, that statement is so negligible that it seems the only reason to include it would be to justify giving up on the Florida Panther. Consider the lowest number of Florida Panthers in the state being 100 and that they only eat twice a week, which may be just barely surviving, that’s 10,400 animals a year consumed by Florida Panthers. That means the 140 farm and domestic animal meals, over the 11 year period, are 0.001 % of their diet. Defenders of Wildlife and The Conservancy of SW Florida both offer programs to assist people in protecting their livestock and pets should be kept indoors. These organizations also offer $340 per calf killed so that there is no loss to the farmer.
3. People Are Afraid to Live Near Florida Panthers and Bears
Much of the reasoning the FWC offers for wanting to resume bear hunting (after 40 years of protection) and for wanting to give up on the recovery of the Florida Panther, is blamed on people not wanting to live near these wild animals. If that’s true then why hasn’t the FWC responded to the tens of thousands of complaints sent to them by Floridians who do not want to live next door to crazy neighbors who keep tigers in their backyards and garages? There are more than 100 places in Florida that are licensed to possess dangerous big cats, and at last count 314 of the dangerous big cats were tigers.
Only 3 of those places were AZA accredited zoos and one was GFAS accredited Big Cat Rescue. The rest are a hodgepodge of back yard breeders and tourist traps with very little oversight. The FWC and USDA may inspect once a year, but if they don’t catch someone in the act of harming the animals, or doing something reckless, then they are typically given a clean inspection report.
The FWC points to four recent bear / human conflicts and can’t find any such cases of Florida Panthers stalking people, but ignores the fact that from 1990 – 2014 there were 84 killings, maulings or escapes by captive exotic cats in Florida. If you are going to use public safety as a reason to hunt and kill our precious natural predators, then why doesn’t that same logic result in a ban on the private possession of lions and tigers in Florida? When the next big hurricane hits Florida, it will be the thousands of dangerous exotic animals potentially freed from cages who will be endangering the public; not our native bears and cats. All throughout this report the FWC claims to be taking a proactive approach to the situation, but that has not been the case with captive exotic animals at all.
The FWC says that managing the survival of these iconic wild animals in their historic range takes up too much of the FWC’s time and resources. Their tagline is to Protect and Serve. Most people think that means to Protect Wildlife and Serve Floridians, but it’s been my experience that it is more to Protect Hunting and Serve Hunters. That is particularly egregious since less than 2% of Floridians are hunters.
Judge for Yourself
The Florida Legislature’s 2014-2015 Appropriations to the FWC, which is funded by those pretty Save the Florida Panther license plates, was $1,324,534.00 That paid the salaries of 10 people working for the FWC. It provided paychecks to 5 biologists, who you would have to assume came up with these proposals, to give up on the Florida Panther and open hunting on the protected Black Bear. It also provided paychecks to 5 law enforcement officers, but to this day I’ve never heard of one catching the poacher of a Florida Panther or Black Bear in the act; have you? Seems like that would be a pretty good story for boosting their funding, but I can’t recall ever hearing about such a thing.
If you go to the FWC’s website ( http://myfwc.com/ ) the first thing you will notice is that their top two flashing banner ads are about teaching children to kill animals before they are old enough to know better. Next is a pitch to catch more fish. Then a note to check out the bear updates and then a picture of turtle hatchlings going out to sea. Leaves you on a happy note, even if everything up until then makes an animal lover want to fire the whole agency. If you go to any of the FWCC meetings, you will be appalled to hear them go on and on and on about how they have to make killing animals more attractive to children and battered women.
Add to the controversy the fact that among the landowners seeking the permit is Immokalee rancher Liesa Priddy, who in 2012 was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott.
Going back to the bear update, it appears the primary focus is to get people to report more bear problems so they can build up that case for opening up bear hunts. I think that’s the real impetus behind giving up on the Florida Panther too.
If the FWC can push through this proposed policy that states that the FWC is not going to burden itself with assisting the recovery of the Florida Panther outside of its barren range, then I believe they will use that as a stepping stone to allow the killing of Florida Panthers who dare to try and leave the flooded plains of the Everglades. They have already done the same to bears by allowing “nuisance” bears to be killed rather than requiring people to keep their trash in bear safe cans.
Then they can offer more hunting opportunities to those children and battered women.
Read the whole report and you will see some mention that the FWC intends to try to improve the small area where they want to relegate the Florida Panthers, but that seems to be more smoke and mirrors to make it look like they will make some effort to preserve the cat, when those small measures could never really save the Florida Panther long term.
Big Cat Rescue Protects Florida Panthers
What You Can Do
Come to the meeting and speak your mind. They will limit you to 3 minutes, but if you don’t speak up to protect the Florida Panther and the Florida Bear, who will?
June, 2015 Commission Meeting
Time: 1:30 pm the first day, 8:30 am each day thereafter
Dates: June 23 – 25, 2015
Place: Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Boulevard of the Arts
Sarasota, Florida 34236
Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: http://ow.ly/GXQfu
Suggested Tweet: Rehabilitated panther released back to the wild by @MyFWC: http://content.govdelivery. com/accounts/FLFFWCC/ bulletins/e7f818 #Florida #panthers
Coming soon – downloadable video clip: http://vimeo.com/myfwc
FWC returns Florida panther to the wild after it recovers from vehicle strike
Today the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released a rehabilitated Florida panther at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee County.
In April 2014, a vehicle struck the 2-year-old male panther as it was crossing a road just east of Ft. Meade in Polk County. After several hours of searching by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and FWC biologists, law enforcement officers and veterinarians, responders found the injured panther in nearby woods, where it had crawled under a fallen tree.
An FWC veterinarian sedated and stabilized the cat, and then transported it to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida for treatment. There, a team of veterinarians operated, implanting two stabilizing plates to repair the cat’s broken left femur. Later, they performed a second surgery to insert a third plate. After the surgeries were completed, FWC staff took the panther to White Oak, a conservation center in Yulee, where it could recover until ready for release.
Last year the same team performed a similar surgery on a panther that was later successfully released by the FWC.
“We are pleased this panther is now healthy and ready to be back in the wild,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader. “This would not have been possible without the quick call to authorities by the driver whose vehicle struck the panther.”
Florida residents can support conservation efforts like the rescue and rehabilitation of injured or orphaned panthers by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.
People can also help with panther research by reporting panther sightings and uploading photos and video to the FWC, atMyFWC.com/PantherSightings.
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.
For more information on Florida panthers go to FloridaPantherNet.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.
That is the lie that animal abusers tell everyone to try and change the subject from protecting exotic cats to a message of mere competition.
They trot out their modified version of our 20 year plan to back up their ridiculous claims, but they leave out the most important part of the plan, which is that there no longer be big cats suffering in captivity, and thus no longer a need for sanctuaries, including Big Cat Rescue’s sanctuary.
As the public becomes better educated about why it is so wrong to breed wild cats for life in cages, they will cease to support industries that breed them as pay to play props, for circuses and other abusive purposes. There will temporarily be an increased need for real sanctuaries, which are those who meet the following standards.
1. Real sanctuaries do not breed exotic cats for life in cages.
2. Real sanctuaries do not buy wild cats.
3. Real sanctuaries do not sell their wildlife.
4. Real sanctuaries do not let the public, nor their staff or volunteers handle the big cats, other than for veterinary purposes.
5. Real sanctuaries do not endanger the public and the big cats by taking them off site for exhibition.
Big Cat Rescue LOVES real sanctuaries and helps them by:
1. Providing guidance on best practices to help the sanctuary qualify for and obtain accreditation through the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
2. Hosting workshops and conferences for those who want to do the right thing for wild animals.
3. Training volunteers and international interns in understanding that each animal is an individual who is to be respected and treated with dignity.
4. Sending work groups of our own volunteers out to help after disasters and when other sanctuaries are short handed.
5. Sharing the secrets of our success with those who demonstrate clearly that they are putting the animals first.
Those who exploit wild animals for their own gain hate us because they don’t want the public to know that:
1. There is no reason to breed big cats in cages, as none of them in private hands can ever be set free.
2. There is no captive breeding program that benefits conservation, other than AZA administered SSP programs.
3. Paying to play with a cub or see one on display actually harms conservation efforts.
4. Tigers could disappear from the wild because of the smoke screen caused by their legal breeding of generic tigers.
5. A ban on private possession is the first step toward saving tigers in the wild.
Exploiters claim that if the Big Cats & Public Safety Act were to pass that they would be put out of business and wouldn’t be able to help “rescue” lions, tigers, leopards, ligers and other exotic cats, but that isn’t true. Big Cat Rescue is one of the most successful sanctuaries in the world and we do it by being open, honest and treating the cats with kindness and respect. We want sanctuaries to thrive, and they can do that if they employ the same attitudes and behaviors that we have in being a real sanctuary.
Any real sanctuary, who is doing their work for the animals and not their own sense of satisfaction, will share our goal of a world where all wild cats live free.