Florida panther cub who is healthy despite his mother having the disease

Florida Panther afflicted by new neurological disorder: feline leukomyelopathy. Florida panther cub who is healthy despite his mother having the disease. Image National Geographic.

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Not long ago I wrote about videos of Florida Panthers demonstrating ataxia which is a lack of coordination. I speculated that there had been poisoned that deliberately as I’m somewhat prone to conspiracy theories. There is a clash between business and the natural world in Florida. Business was to get rid of interfering animals.

However, scientists are desperately trying to get to the bottom of this. They say that a not unsubstantial number of kittens are being born with feline leukomyelopathy, a neurological disorder. The thought of Panther has always been endangered. As I recall they imported some non-Florida Panthers from the West because numbers in Florida had dipped. I’m not sure that they are purebred any longer. But it is said that there is a total population at the moment of around 200. That’s about double the previous number and I wonder whether is a reason why business once rid of them.

Feline leukomyelopathy is also affecting the bobcats in Florida. They have trouble walking due to weakness in limbs and in severe case of partial paralysis. It can lead to starvation for obvious reasons. The scientists believe that 18 bobcats in 19 Panthers have been afflicted with it in the state since the spring of 2017. A further 11 cases have been confirmed apparently.

What is disturbing is that they don’t know what’s causing it. They say that there is no smoking gun by which they mean there’s no signals which point them in the right direction. The best guess is that because is a neurotoxin or possibly pathogen such as a virus. I presume, by the way, that a neurotoxin is a chemical in the environment and I’m referring to a man-made chemical. It is not a genetic condition that is inherited because it affects two species of cat.

The nerve cells are damaged and it develops early in life does not normally worsen but neither does it improve. Autopsies of deceased cats caused by the disease revealed severe damage to the spinal cord. The spinal cord was full of holes where the nerve fibres should be. This may indicate that a toxic substances damaging the axons of the nerves. This is believed by a neurologist, Ian Duncan, at the University of Wisconsin.

One issue that the Florida Panthers can find quite a small space so they can’t escape the course of the disease if it is caused by a neurotoxin. They feel that there is a need for the animals to move into new territory to protect them against this new threat. They believe that Panthers must expand their range to the north through wildlife corridors.

The upshot is that the future of this species of mountain lion is very much in question. They are alluding to the fact that the species may be extinct in the not-too-distant future.


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