Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

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Bio Facts: Panther, Florida

Panther, Florida
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Common Name:

Florida Panther

Scientific Name:

Felis concolor coryi

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) (Young and Goldman 1946).  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.

Description:

A male can measure 7-8 feet from the nose to tail tip and weight 100-160 lbs. Females are about 6 feet in length and weight between 60-100 lbs.  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.  It has shorter hair, a crooked tail, and a whorl of hair in the middle of the back.  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.  It is believed that the crook and whorl are the result of recessive genes being expressed through inbreeding. The shape of the 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 ones.

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 year

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)

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.

The panther’s scream is an extreme vocal warning and is not normally heard.  Common communication is usually in the manner of low growls, chirps, hisses, whistles, and purring sounds.

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 other males and will fight, which can be fatal.  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.  All mark their territories by using their hind feet to make “scrapes,” little piles of leaves and material on which they defecate or urinate.

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.

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 most active at dusk and dawn, traveling 15-20 miles a day often in a zigzag pattern.  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 and may be taken every 7 to 10 days, the diet then being supplemented with smaller prey.  A single panther may consume from 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.  They eat what they can, cover the rest with dirt and leaves, and return the next day.  They usually eat the intestinal tract first.  A panther tends to remain in the area of its kill, eating more of it as it gets hungry, until the kill is entirely gone or becomes too rotten to eat.

Panthers do become accustomed to man-made noises and frequently cross roads.  They are attracted to woodland fires, and may stay near burned sites for days as deer and other prey are drawn to new vegetation.  When humans approach an area they either still, disappear, or attempt to circle behind.

Adaptations:

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.  Their preferred method of hunting is to creep up as close to their prey as possible and launch a short spring attack.

Special Interest:

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 are no black cougars or black Florida panthers.  People who report seeing a black panther may have seen a large, black bobcat, or some other animal such as an otter or even a dark (but not black) panther that may appear black in dim light.

There are over 700 captive cougars kept legally as “pets” in Florida.  These are not true Florida panthers.  A full-blooded Florida panther would be immediately confiscated by the Florida Game Commission and placed in a state facility.

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.  Today, however, it is the rapid destruction of habitat that has put the Florida panther on the brink of extinction.

Although numerous sightings continue to surface annually throughout the historic range of the Florida panther, 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.

The panther is Florida’s most endangered species.  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.  Only 30 - 50 panthers are estimated to be remaining in Florida today.

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.

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:

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.