Any unique characteristics of the Florida panther are due to inbreeding and “genetic drift” (PubMed Central) such as the crooked tail and heart defects. The Florida panther is inbred due to its small “island” habitat, which has resulted in genetic defects such as mentioned above and poor sperm quality (see another post on poor sperm quality of endangered wild cats). As at 2005 there were an estimated 80 panthers in Florida. There were 30-50 in 1995. Scientists become concerned for the survival of a population when it drops below 500. (src: PubMed Central)
When we talk about the Florida panther we are obliged to talk about the puma of north and south America set against the background of this animal’s story over the last 100 years, which is its struggle to cohabit with people due to our lack of will to make the relationship work.
In this article I focus on the threats to this cat, the most important topic by far, but there are a growing number of articles listed with links about the cat itself at the base of the page.
Update 24th Sept.2010: “Thanks for referring to my story on the Florida panther. I just wanted to provide the link to the story, which ran in PLoS Biology (link opens in a new window). Since the journal is open access, anyone can read it or reuse the images that ran in the story (as you’ve done here!).”
The above is a thumbnail of a map of the range of the Florida panther as at 2000. (Illustration: Rusty Howson) from PubMed Central.
As mentioned, pumas were extirpated (completely destroyed) from the eastern United States by the end of the 1890s some 110 years ago, with one exception a small “island” (effectively a habitat island) population in southern Florida. Although it is now accepted that the puma is no longer in existence east of Texas there have been some sightings, ostensibly, in eastern USA but it is said that these are released captive animals.