Endangered Florida panther shot in Georgia
In Troup County, Georgia, in 2008, a hunter was waiting in his tree stand for deer when he spotted and shot an animal he'd never seen in that area before: a cougar.
He reported his kill to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, after which the body of the big cat was brought to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia, for necropsy.
High-tech CSI-type genetic testing by the National Cancer Institute, Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, revealed that the young, healthy mature male was a resident member of the south Florida remnant population of critically endangered Florida panthers, although it isn't clear if he was an escaped zoo animal or pet, or travelled to Georgia on his own.
According to a news release today from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources , because Florida panthers had not been documented in Georgia in years, it was initially thought that this animal might have escaped or have been intentionally released from captivity. With the genetic confirmation that the animal is indeed a Florida panther, it's possible this animal could have traveled all the way from south Florida to Georgia.
"We have had evidence (road kill) of Florida panthers as far north as the Florida panhandle," said Tim Breault, Director of Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Young males, in an attempt to develop their own territory, will often wander far from their home range. We think this may have been the case in this situation."
The healthy male shot by the hunter in 2008 was evidently roaming northward in search of his own territory, which raises questions about other Florida panthers that might be leaving their usual range to find better habitat by moving north.
"Finding a Florida panther that far from southwest Florida is out of the ordinary, but male panthers, particularly younger ones, can travel great distances," said Paul Souza, Field Supervisor of the South Florida Ecological Services Office. "While it's unusual for panthers to be seen that far north, it is not impossible for a young male to travel so far."
The critically endangered Florida panther is the last subspecies of mountain lion still surviving in the SE United States. With only about 100 left, it means every loss is a step closer to extinction. Just this morning (August 5, 2009) a semi accidentally hit one on a highway in Collier County Florida.
The Florida panther is a magnificent animal. A mature male can reach 6 feet in length and weigh 130 pounds, preying on white-tailed deer, wild (feral) hogs, armadillos, birds and small mammals like raccoons. While they may occasionally take an outdoor pet, this shy cat generally avoids humans.
If ever an animal was blessed with a plethora of names, it is Puma concolor. Also known as mountain lion, puma, cougar, panther, catamount and painter, this big cat used to range all across the US. It's also supposedly the only ‘big cat' that purrs (tigers for instance ‘chuff' rather than purr.).
The Official State Animal of the Sunshine State, Florida panthers need our help. They have suffered a tremendous reduction in numbers as the human population in American, and particularly south Florida has mushroomed. They are now reduced to less than 5% of their historic range.
Because of their small population, the Florida panther is struggling to overcome the effects of inbreeding. Beyond that, other threats are habitat destruction and fragmentation, collisions with vehicles, mercury poisoning, and parasites/diseases from domestic cats and dogs.
The loss of even one Florida panther to a careless hunter is disturbing. So far the shooter hasn't been charged, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement is investigating this incident since the Florida panther is a federally protected endangered species.
Thank you to Melissa Cummings of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for this breaking news report.
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
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