Felis concolor coryi (Bangs)
STATUS: Endangered throughout its range, Federal Register, March 11, 1967.
DESCRIPTION: The Florida panther is a large, long-tailed cat with a great deal of color variation: pale brown or rusty upper parts, dull white or buffy under parts; tail tip, back of ears, and sides of nose are dark brown or blackish. Mature male panthers examined in the wild in Florida since 1978 have weighed from 1O2 to 154 pounds (Roelke 1990, Roelke and Glass 1992) and measured nearly 7 feet from nose to tip of tail. Females were considerably smaller, with a weight range of 50 to 1O8 pounds (Roelke 1990) and measuring about 6 feet (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1987).
FEEDING HABITS: Preliminary analyses of panther diets in the southwest Florida study area indicate that panthers subsist on a variety of mammalian prey dominated by white-tailed deer, wild hog, and in some areas raccoon. Analysis of 83 scats and 22 kills since 1986 indicate a difference in food habits between the north and south portions of the study area. Deer and hogs accounted for 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the south, and 23 percent and 63 percent, respectively, in the north. Occurrence of small prey appeared similar between areas (Maehr 1988b).
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Only preliminary data is available on Florida panther reproduction. Existing data indicates that breeding may occur throughout the year with a peak in the winter/spring period, a gestation period of around 9O to 95 days, litter sizes of 1 to 4 kittens, and a breeding cycle of 2 years for females successfully raising young to dispersal, which occurs around 18 to 24 months. A female has successfully reproduced at 22 to 23 months, and a male has possessed fertile sperm and exhibited reproduction at 26 to 3O months, (Belden 1988, Maehr 1988a, Roelke 1986, O.L. Bass and D.S. Maehr personal communications).
Male panthers examined to date exhibit an exceedingly high proportion of abnormal sperm forms (more than 9O percent), with the major defect involving the acrosome or head of the spermatozoa. In addition, 12 of 27 males (44 percent) examined between 1981 and 1990, exhibited unilateral cryptorchidism - one testicle does not descend properly into the scrotum (Roelke 1990). As of June 1993, sixty-five percent (11 of 17) of living males were cryptorchid. Concern over this condition heightened in 1992, when 2 male kittens were found to be bilaterally cryptorchid (neither testicle descends), rendering them functionally sterile (Roelke and Glass 1992).
As part of the genetic preservation effort, a sperm bank was established in 1988 to cryopreserve (freeze-store) semen collected from free-ranging males.
Data on development indicate that at 12 to 14 days of age, kitten weights ranged from 1 pound, and 4 ounces, to 1 pound and 12 ounces, and at 21 days weights were around 4 pounds. Males 6 to 1O months of age weighed 33 to 66 pounds; 14 to 19 months, 85 to 86 pounds; and 24 to 36 months, 92 to 93 pounds. Females 4 to 6 months weighed 25 to 39 pounds; 6 to 1O months, 33 to 49 pounds; 14 to 2O months, 56 to 7O; and 24 to 48 months, 5O to 8O pounds (Roelke 1990, Roelke and Glass 1992).
RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: The historic range included eastern Texas or western Louisiana and the lower Mississippi River valley east through the Southeastern States in general (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina) (Young and Goldman 1946). Even though numerous sighting reports continue to surface annually throughout its historic range, it is unlikely that viable populations of the Florida panther presently occur outside Florida. The only known self-sustaining population occurs in south Florida, generally within the Big Cypress Swamp physiographic region and centered in Collier and Hendry Counties. Within the last decade, radio-instrumented panthers have also utilized habitats in Broward, Dade, Glades, Highlands, Lee, and Monroe Counties. Scattered verified sign has been documented (late 198O's) along the St. Johns River drainage (Belden and Frankenberger 1988) from northern Okeechobee County north to southern Putnam County (Belden personal communication 1989). Currently, the wild population is estimated to be comprised of 3O to 5O adult animals.
HABITAT: In general, panther population centers appear to indicate a preference toward large remote tracts with adequate prey, cover, and reduced levels of disturbance. A telemetry study on the Florida panther was initiated in south Florida by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (Commission) in 1981. This initial study has since been expanded by the Commission, and the National Park Service initiated additional studies in 1986. One of the goals of these telemetry projects is to learn more about panther habitat. As of June 1993, data had been gathered from 54 radio-instrumented panthers.
Data from panthers monitored by the Commission in southwest Florida since 1985 indicate that, overall, habitat use is highly diverse and varies from north to south. Diversity of habitats used by panthers is greater in northern parts of the study area and dominated by uplands (hardwood hammocks, low pinelands, and palm forests). Lower diversity and predominately wetland habitat use are characteristic of southern areas (mixed swamp and cypress swamp). Appropriate cover is an important component of habitats used, especially during hunting, denning, and day-bedding. Saw palmetto was the dominant cover in 72 percent of observed day bedding sites.
Annual home-range sizes of 26 instrumented panthers monitored in southwest Florida varied from 20 to 457 mi2. Home ranges averaged 200 mi2 for resident adult males, 75 mi2 for adult females, 241 mi2 for transient males, and 69 mi2 for subadult females (Maehr et al. 1991).
MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: The initial recovery plan was prepared by the Florida Panther Recovery Team and was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service on December 17, 1981. This plan was revised by the Florida Panther Interagency Committee's Technical Subcommittee and approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service on June 22, 1987. The recovery objective, as presented in the revised plan, is to achieve three viable, self-sustaining populations within the historic range of the panther. This is to be accomplished through three principal sub-objectives:
1. Identify, protect, and enhance existing panthers rangewide and protect and manage habitats;
2. Establish positive public opinion support for the management of the panther; and,
3. Reintroduce panthers into areas of suitable habitat.
Implementation of many of the recovery plan's tasks is presently underway. Some tasks have already been completed. Ongoing recovery actions primarily focus on protecting and enhancing the existing wild population, developing and implementing genetic management strategies (which includes the management of a captive breeding population), and locating candidate reintroduction sites and developing reintroduction technologies that will lead to successful population reestablishment programs in other historic range areas. A Habitat Preservation Plan for panther habitat in south Florida was completed in July 1993. A rangewide candidate reintroduction site identification and evaluation project is underway and should be completed during 1993. Genetic restoration strategies presently under consideration include a program to reinstitute gene flow into the panther from an adjoining subspecies, as occurred naturally prior to isolation. The primary thrust of the recovery effort is being generated through the Florida Panther Interagency Committee (Committee). This Committee was organized in 1986 to ensure that the principal agencies assigned lead roles in recovery implementation (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, and Florida Department of Natural Resources) initiate and implement all recovery activities in a cooperative and coordinated manner.
Belden, R.C. 1988. The Florida Panther. Pages 514-532 in W.J. Chandler (ed) Audubon Wildl. Rept. 1988/1989. The Natl. Audubon Soc. N.Y. 817 pp.
Belden, R.C. and W.B. Frankenberger. 1988. Florida Panther Distribution. Annual Performance Report, 7/1/87- Study No. E-1-12 II-E-1 75O1, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 6 pp.
Maehr, D.S. 1988a. Florida Panther Movements, Social Organization and Habitat Utilization. Annual Performance Report, 7/1/87-6/30/88, Study No. E-1-12 II-E-2 7502, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 19 pp.
Maehr, D.S. 1988b. Florida Panther Food Habits and Energetics. Annual Performance Report, 7/1/87-6/30/88, Study No. E-1-12 II-E-3 75O3, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 4 pp.
Maehr, D.S., E.D. Land, and J.C. Roof. 1991. Social Ecology of Florida Panthers. National Geographic Research & Exploration, 7(4): 414-431.
Roelke, M.E. 1986. Florida Panther Health and Reproduction. Annual Performance Report, 7/1/85-6/30/86, Study No. E-1-10 II-E-6, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 85 pp.
Roelke, M.E. 1990. Florida Panther Biomedical Investigation. Final Report, 7/1/86-6/30/90, Study No. 7506, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 175 pp.
Roelke, M.E. and C.M. Glass. 1992. Florida Panther Biomedical Investigation. Annual Performance Report, 7/1/91-6/30/92, Study No. 7506, FL Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. 36 pp.
**U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. Florida Panther (Felis concolor coryi) Recovery Plan. Prepared by the Florida Panther Interagency Committee for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, Georgia. 75 pp.
Young, S.P. and E.A. Goldman. 1946. The Puma, Mysterious American Cat. Dover Pub., Inc. N.Y. 358 pp.
For more information please contact:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
117 Newins-Ziegler Hall
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611-O3O7