The Endangered Florida Panther
What Is the Florida Panther Like?
Appearance: The Florida Panther is characterized by its tan-gray or red-tan color fur. They have white on the muzzle, chest, and underbelly. Its paws are smaller than other large cats, yet its legs slightly longer. Many Florida Panthers will have white flecks on the fur, although this may be a result of ticks rather than actual coloring of the animal. Unlike most other pumas, they have a crooked tail and an odd twirl of hair on the midsection of their back. These are believed to be a result of inbreeding which causes genetic abnormalities. In the wild, panthers can live up to 12-15 years but often die in infancy.
Gender Differences: Generally males are larger than females at about seven feet long, which includes its tail. Despite their big size, they only weigh around 130 pounds. This is only a third of the average weight of a male lion. The largest panther ever captured was 154 pounds in Hendry County. Females are about a foot shorter and weigh anywhere between 60 to 100 pounds.
Paw Tracks: Florida Panther tracks are very unique. The pad of the paw has three sections, yet four toes, which causes it to be asymmetrical. This differs from a dog print, which is symmetrical. The claws retract; therefore, they rarely show up in a print. The front paws are wider than their back, although often in panther tracks, the prints will overlap since their front paw usually will hit the same spot as the hind paw.
Communication: They communicate with one another by using low growls, chirps, hisses, whistles, and even purring sounds, although they are most well known for their scream which is unique to the Florida panther.
What Do Panthers Eat?
Like most felines, Florida Panthers are nocturnal hunters and are most active during dusk and dawn. They spend most of their waking hours traveling in a zig-zag pattern up to 15-20 miles in one day. During the day, they rest to keep out of the heat and sun.
The Hunt: Unlike many of their feline cousins, they do not mind getting wet and are willing to swim across large bodies of water, like lakes. Although they prefer to be on land where they can travel much faster. Some have been recorded running up to 35 mph. Unfortunately, they do not have very much endurance and can only keep up this pace for short periods of time. For this reason, they choose stealth as their primary hunting tactic. They would rather sneak attack their prey than to chase them. Fortunately, they have an excellent sense of smell and can see 130 degrees in their peripheral vision, which benefits them for surprise attacks.
The Prey: Florida Panthers eat many of the native animals in Florida, even small alligators. Most commonly, they eat whitetail deer, raccoon, wild hog, armadillo, and small rodents or fowl. A deer or hog will satisfy them for several days, but they will eat smaller animals when larger prey is unavailable. After a large catch, they bury the remainder of their prey until their next meal.
The Feast: They kill their prey by biting the back of the neck or throat. Their teeth will leave deep marks two inches apart. Due to their extensive traveling, they require a large number of calories per day. Most adults need 3,000 calories per day, a pregnant female needs 8,000 calories, and a growing kitten may need as much as 20,000.
What Are Their Breeding Habits?
When a female is ready to mate, she will mark her area with a special scent, which alerts the male it is time. Since females mature more quickly than males, they have been known to have kittens as young as 18 months old, but they usually wait until they are fully grown, which is when they are two to three years old.
Panthers mate most often during the winter and spring, but they will at any time of the year. The gestation period is 92 to 96 days and a litter can consist of up to four kittens. Most are born in the late spring. Unfortunately, rarely do all four survive into adulthood. They stay with their mother until they are one to two years old. Their mother usually will have their next litter around this time.
When kittens are born, they have blue eyes and spotted fur. They usually do not open their eyes for two to three weeks, until they are ready to walk. The mother will leave for days at a time to hunt throughout the first two months of their life, yet the kittens survive well between their opportunities to suckle. At two months, they are first introduced to meat. Unfortunately, since the mother must leave for days at a time, it leaves the baby panthers very vulnerable to the multitude of things that could harm them. Once they reach six months, their risks significantly decrease as they are able to defend themselves and begin to hunt. Prior to this point, their den is their main source of safety, which is why it is important to preserve a healthy amount of habitat for panthers to reside.
Should we introduce the Florida Panther into different parts of the country?
Where Do The Florida Panther Live?
Preserving forests, grasslands, and other areas that are rich in vegetation give many opportunities for the Florida Panthers to build dens, which gives these endangered animals a fighting chance of replenishing their population.
They prefer to build a den where the palmetto thicket is tall. The taller the thicket, the better it serves as a shelter for the kittens against rain and sun exposure. As the thicket bows over, it keeps the land much cooler than places outside the den. When choosing the best location, they will try to find a bare dry spot under the thickets, which is far from the sounds of people. Unfortunately, these animals have gotten used to hearing human sounds, which has caused them to move closer to us. This has put the animal in harm's way, such as being hit by vehicles or men killing them out of fear when they see them on their land.
In Florida, most of these felines live in the southern part of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. Only 30-50 of them are left in the wild; the majority live in one of the national parks. The parks are a significantly smaller territory than where they used to live. They used to travel to several states, such as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Slowly they were pushed out of many of these regions, as people gained more land.
Panthers, for the most part, are solitary animals and do not live in prides, nor do they stay with the same mate. One panther needs a large area, where they can hunt and live away from other cats; this is another reason that their population has dwindled. Many of the territories will overlap with potential mates, but a male will not share a territory with another male. They will fight to the death if a cat trespasses on another's homeland.
Males tend to have the most land at around 250 square miles. This gives a lot of potential for different mates. Females, who are generally more tolerant of sharing with either sex range from 70-200 square miles of land.
Despite their independent spaces, they usually will live near each other. The older, more established Florida panthers will live in the center, whereas the younger panthers will live on the perimeters of a habitat. This is yet another reason why young panthers are at high risk of being harmed, since they live so close to human civilization.
Each panther will mark its territory with markings called scat. Scat is basically a clump of leaves and earth that they have urinated or defecated on. They will rake the leaves and earth up with their hind claws until it is at least six inches in length. This allows other panthers to know that the land is already claimed.
Florida Panther Habitat
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Why Is the Florida Panther Endangered?
For years, Florida panthers flourished throughout the eastern United States. Unfortunately, humans viewed them as a threat; therefore, they began to hunt and trap them. By the mid-1950s, these beautiful cats almost became extinct. By 1967, the U.S. Department of the Interior classified them as endangered. Unfortunately, humans still fear them today, which is why many programs that are trying to encourage the population growth is trying to address the social opposition to panthers. In 1981, the first Florida Panther Recovery Plan began by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, we have seen some growth in the number of them in the wild.
Unfortunately, the greatest threat to these large cats still remains. This greatest threat is the severely decreasing habitat. As a result of the loss of habitable land, there are a lot of dangers that have arisen, which would not normally be there. Let's not forget the diseases and causes of death that would happen even in the most accommodating habitats, such as cat fights, rabies that they can get from feral hogs, feline distemper, feline leukemia, and Feline AIDS, as well as the occasional parasite, such as tapeworm, hookworm, ringworm etc.
In addition to these natural dangers, they have been subject to decreasing populations due to inbreeding. Inbreeding is dangerous to the population as a whole, because it results in congenital heart defects, decreases overall fitness, increases testicle abnormalities and abnormal semen, etc.
Also, they are living closer and closer to human civilization. Although illegal hunting is rare in Florida, collisions with motor vehicles is on the rise. In addition to decreasing land, there is a decreasing number of prey available to them. As humans move in, their prey moves out, which causes them to have to hunt for longer periods of time, which can result in undernourishment, starvation, and overall poor health.
As a result of the limited territory, the number of them in the wild is diminishing. Fortunately, there has been a slight increase in the past few years due to several programs implemented in South Florida such as Genetic Restoration Program and National Wildlife Refuges. Some of these programs are trying to reintroduce the panther in previously native areas where they have gone extinct. By opening up more territories where they can roam, hopefully will allow the population to increase. It is important for humankind to be conscientious of taking care of the land the panthers still have in order to preserve this species.
15 Florida Panthers Killed
- Information on the Endangered Florida Panther | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_7384223_information-endangered-florida-panther.html#ixzz265ogryDm
- Florida Panther Endangered Species Act | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_6742708_florida-panther-endangered-species-act.html#ixzz265outgud
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz