Panther, Florida


Felis concolor coryi


 


A male can measure 7-8 feet from the nose to tail tip and weigh 100-160 pounds. Females are about 6 feet in length and weigh between 60-100 pounds. The shape of the skull is characterized by a more exaggerated rise of the nasal arch. Paws are smaller and legs slightly longer than other cougars. The shape of the paw print is asymmetrical, a three lobed pad surrounded by four toes, normally no claw marks show, but if they appear, they will be small sharp points. When walking, the hind paw is often placed in the print of the forepaw, one overlapping the other. The forepaws are wider than the hind paws. .  White flecks also appear on the fur, but this is probably the result of ticks. Color of the coat varies from a rusty buff to fawn gray, while the muzzle, chest, and underbelly are white. 

The “classic traits” associated with the Florida Panther (the “kinked” tail tip, whorl of hair over the shoulders) are more due to the inbreeding that resulted from decreased numbers of cats than as true subspecies traits. With genetic restoration these traits are less obvious or prevalent, it is still seen in the population, but reduced in intensity.

 

Family

Felidae

Order

Carnivora

Class

Mammalia

Range

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). The remaining Florida panthers can be found in Big Cypress National Park (plus adjacent private lands) and Everglades National Park.

Habitat

Upper dry land & wetland areas. Dry - hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods, saw palmetto & cabbage palm thickets. Wet - cypress forest, thicket swamps & freshwater marsh.

Life Expectancy

12-15 years in the wild

Sexual Maturity

Females mature faster than males and have been known to conceive as early as 18 months, but the average breeding age is 2-3 years.

Diet

White-tailed deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, small alligators, other small rodents, and birds. In the Zoo, they are fed feline diet, knuckle bones, fish, chicken quarters, rats, and hard-boiled eggs.

Status

Endangered, CITES I, Florida (E), AZA - yellow SSP

Behaviors

Palmetto & drier scrub areas are often used for denning and day beds. Panthers will wade and swim canals and swamps if necessary to find drier, more secure resting-places and to hunt for food. Panthers prefer a secluded environment away from people and are less likely to frequent low agricultural areas and citrus groves. Social Structure: Panthers are primarily solitary animals. Each animal has a home range or territory that it maintains and hunts within. These ranges will tend to overlap with potential mates. Males will not tolerate another male in their territory and will become aggressive. A male’s home range is more extensive, covering approximately 250 square miles. This increases his mating potential. Females are more tolerant of each other and have a range of between 70 and 200 square miles. Their social order consists of a resident, more mature dominant animal that has established a prime territorial range. Transient or subdominant animals between the ages of 2-5 years live on the peripheries and are relegated to poorer hunting areas where there is a greater chance of human encroachment. Communication: Common communication includes chirps, hisses, growls, and purring. Florida Panthers have also been referred to as “screamers” due to the loud screaming females will emit when in heat. Florida Panthers mark their territories by using their hind feet to make “scrapes,” little piles of leaves and material on which they defecate or urinate. Reproduction: Though conception can take place anytime during the year, the breeding season generally falls between October through March with kittens often born in the spring. The gestation period is 92-96 days. Panthers usually produce one litter every 2 years with an average litter size of one to three kittens. They stay with their mothers for 12 to 18 months. Panthers are crepuscular which means that they are most active at dusk and dawn. They tend to rest during the daytime and travel or hunt during the cooler hours of the night. Deer or hogs are the preferred prey A single panther may consume 35 to 50 deer a year (or ten times that amount in raccoons). Panthers stalk their prey, then jump, and break its neck with a single bite through the spinal cord. The cat will then eat until it is full, cover the rest with dirt and leaves, and return the next day. A panther tends to remain in the area of its kill until the kill is entirely gone or becomes too rotten to eat. Panthers do become accustomed to man-made noises and frequently cross roads and a frequent cause of death is being hit by cars.

Adaptions

Panthers can swim and will cross wide bodies of water. They have a keen sense of smell and a field of vision of 130 degrees. Their depth perception is excellent but lacks the panoramic view that deer have. Panthers can run up to 35 mph, but only for a few hundred yards.

Special Interests

The Florida Panther is a subspecies of the Puma concolor family that is only found in the state of Florida. The names cougar, puma, panther, and mountain lion are used interchangeably for this species, and various other vernacular terms are applied in certain areas. In 1982, students throughout the state of Florida chose the panther over the manatee, alligator, and Key deer to be the state animal. The Florida panther is the only large cat living in the wild east of the Mississippi River. There is no species of "black panther." The large black cats seen in zoos or used by media outlets are usually either the black (or melanistic) phase of jaguars or leopards. Some species of wild felines, especially those that are spotted as adults (including bobcats) have melanistic or black color phase but this color phase is highly unusual. There has never been a black or melanistic panther, cougar, or mountain lion documented in the wild or in captivity Human/Panther Interactions: Florida Panthers avoid humans and will hide if they encounter one. It is illegal to hunt, trap, or feed Florida Panthers.

Folklore

Folklore: The name “catamount” was a contraction for “cat of the mountain,” an old name for the wild cat or mountain lion. The name cougar is said to be a corruption of a name given to the cat by the Tupi Indians of South America. Because of the cat’s tawny coat, they called it suasuarana, meaning “false deer.” In translation, this became cuguacuarana, and cougar came from this mistake. The name “panther” is from the Sanskrit pundarika, meaning “tiger.” Called panther or painter in the eastern woods, the mountain lion is an animal creator. The story is told that Panther wanted only day, and Chipmunk wanted only night. When night was made, Panther reached out and scratched Chipmunk’s back in anger, and Chipmunk carries these claw marks to this day. The Seneca Indians tell the story of a magical panther suit that made the wearer young and fearless and a great hunter. The mountain lion is often shown as a companion to the Trickster, particularly among the Shoshone Indians. Among some California tribes, he is shown as Coyote’s elder brother.

Conservation

For years, hunting cougars was encouraged nationwide by a bounty system. In Florida, a $5.00 bounty was paid for panther pelts until late in the 1800’s. 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. The panther is Florida’s most endangered species. Less Than 100 panthers are estimated to be remaining in Florida today. This descendant of the western cougar needs vast tracks of wild lands to hunt and survive. Florida’s rapidly expanding population is continually pushing development farther into the hunting grounds of the panther. Over a century ago Florida Panthers bred regularly with other subspecies of the Puma concolor family which resulted in a healthy and diverse gene pool. When Florida Panthers became geographically isolated from other subspecies (due to the human population increasing), inbreeding accelerated which resulted in genetic depression, declining health, and an overall reduced survivability. By the early 1990’s only 30 Florida Panthers were left in the wild. After careful planning, biologists released eight female Texas Panthers (another subspecies of the Puma concolor family) to introduce some genetic diversity into the Florida Panther population. Five litters were born. No more Texas panthers were released into the population after the original eight. Many of the Florida panthers today have no genetic similarity to the introduced Texas females which is why Florida Panthers can still be considered their own subspecies. The Florida panther was first protected by Florida law in 1958 and listed as an endangered subspecies in 1967. It was further protected by the Florida Panther Act of 1978. Recovery programs to save the panther began in 1976. The initial recovery plan was prepared by the Florida Panther Recovery Team and approved by the U.S. 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 22, 1987. Theplan’s recovery objective 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: Identify, protect, and enhance existing panthers range-wide and protect and manage habitats; establish positive public opinion support for the management of the panther; and 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), locating candidate reintroduction sites and developing reintroduction technologies that will lead to successful population reestablishment programs in other historic range areas. The primary thrust of the recovery effort is being generated through the Florida Panther Interagency 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.

Jacksonville Zoo History

To the best of our knowledge, the first ones in the collection arrived in August 1992 just before Hurricane Andrew ravaged the area where they had been a week earlier. In March 2005, two female kittens were recovered from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (Collier County) after their mother, a female who was being monitored by state wildlife biologists, came into estrous two weeks after giving birth and abandoned them. These kittens are now adults and are on exhibit in Wild Florida. They will eventually become part of a renewed captive breeding effort.

Exhibit

Wild Florida Exhibit Area