With spring in full bloom, some positive signs have emerged about Florida’s endangered panther. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP) have been busy documenting active Florida panther dens filled with kittens. A total of four dens, with three kittens apiece, have been documented so far in 2010. These particular dens were found in palmetto thickets in Picayune Strand State Forest and BCNP in Collier County. The births are significant because they offset panther deaths and hopefully mean the population will continue to grow. The panthers’ numbers declined to approximately 30 cats by the early 1980s, but research and monitoring by FWC biologists have helped in restoring the genetic health and vigor of the panther population.
Florida panthers breed throughout the year, but peak activity occurs in the spring. Biologists attempt to visit the dens when the kittens are approximately 2 weeks old. At that time, litter size and composition are noted, samples (skin, hair, blood, fecal) are taken for genetic testing and health screening, transponders are inserted for identification purposes. This information helps biologists learn about the genetic structure of the population. Also oral deworming medication is administered to help give the kittens a healthy start.
The kittens stay in the den for about two months, after which they begin following their mother to kills and begin the weaning process. Kittens stay with their mother for about 14 months. Females set up a home range near or overlapping their mother’s home range. Males disperse away from their natal range, sometimes covering hundreds of miles before settling into their own home range.
“It’s quite rewarding when we can follow Florida panthers throughout their lives,” said FWC panther biologist Mark Lotz. “Active dens are tangible evidence that the Florida panther is reproducing. We learn so much about panthers when we track them from birth through adulthood.”
Details on this year’s births can be found at www.FloridaPantherNet.org; click on “Panther Pulse.”
State funding for panther research and monitoring comes from fees collected when Florida residents purchase panther specialty license plates. Visit www.buyaplate.com for more information.
To report dead or injured panthers call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.