Currently in the world there are many animals species that are endangered and has faced a threat of extinction. These include black rhino, grevy’s zebra, Asian elephant, right whale, blue whale and others. Florida panther in the U.S.A. is one of the endangered species and has been enlisted as an endangered species under Endangered Species Act 1973. Florida panther is a carnivore representing cougar (puma concolor), in the cat family that lives in low pinelands, palm forests and swamps in southern Florida in U.S.A. They have been found in Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Park and Florida Panther national Wildlife Refuge. This paper highlights the history of this animal in the U.S.A, some causes for the decrease and the future of the Florida Panther.
In the past, Florida Panther was normally found throughout South Eastern United State; areas occupied included Texas, Louisiana and the Lower Mississippi river valley including Florida Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee. Currently it is only about 70 panthers remaining in private lands in south west Florida within the cypress swamp region that has remained to be a wild breeding area. A trend in habitat for wildlife has shown an extent of loss of Panther habitat from 1936-1987. During the 51-year period, 4.3 million acre of forests has been cleared (21%) which is a good habitat of the animal. Panthers stay in upper dry lands like pine Flatwoods, hardwoods, hardwood hammock, cabbage palm thickets, wetlands and fresh water marshes.
The species survival has been threatened by several factors which has made species numbers to decrease. The main reason for the decrease has been due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Destruction of the species natural home has been due to human industrialization causing small area for the breeding effectively and successfully. Today, direct persecution is practically non-existent. White-tailed deer numbers are perhaps greater than ever, but habitat loss continues, and the former ‘panther’ landscape has been fragmented severely by an immense spider web of highways and urbanization. There have been questions on whether there will be survival of the Florida panther with the annual growth of the America population by 2.8%. The growing population has also seen 50% of the wetland in America lost which is a habitat for the Florida panther. (Clarke D. 1994)
Hunting of the animal has also led to the decrease in the number of panther. It was mostly hunted by the Native Americans for teeth, skin and their claws. Other reason as to why the Florida panther was hunted is to eliminate them from threatening their livestock. (Rogers 1998).
As the male panthers cross the roads so that they can get to the female panthers, they are usually hit by the vehicles and killed. From 1978-1994, 20 deaths and 6 injuries of the panther was recorded as a result collisions by those vehicles crossing the road.
Inbreeding has also been a cause of decrease in the number of Florida panther. Population viability analysis (PVA) shown that inbreeding depression increases the extinction risks in a certain population. Population viability analysis (PVA) indicated that within a very short period, the Florida panther was in danger of extinction and recommendations were made on several actions that could be undertaken to alleviate the inbreeding problems. The small space that is left for mating encourages inbreeding due to a small perimeter for mating. This weakens the animals’ immune’s system making the animals to be more susceptible to diseases. In breeding also causes abdominal semen, testicle abnormalities and congenital heart diseases to the animal.
Males also inflict deadly wounds on others while trying to protect and maintain their territory which increases the number of death. According to ‘U.S. fish and wildlife service’, “the most frequent source of the death among radio-collared panthers was intra-specific aggression-panthers killing other panthers.” Young males are mostly killed by adult males while in some cases mature males are killed by younger males.
Diseases infection has also been a cause of death of the Florida panther. The diseases include pseudo rabies and viral pathogen that is found in feral hogs. Feline distemper (panleukopenia) is a highly contagious disease that is dangerous for the panther and a major threat to the remaining population. Ticks, tapeworms, ringworm and intestinal flukes are also a threat to panther’s survival. (South Florida Water Management District 1972).
There have been Conservation and protection measures of the animal which have been made by different groups (South Florida water Management District.). An initial recovery plan has been prepared by Fish and wildlife service in 1981 of identifying, protecting and enhancing the remaining range and their habitats have been one of the major objectives of the team. The other objective of the team concerning the recovery plan is establishing a good public opinion and their support and the management of the panther. Re-introduction of panthers in their suitable habitat areas has also been the objective of recovery plan which is currently being implemented. One of the actions taken is to ensure that 30-35 young and adult animals wear radio collars on the neck in the recovery program.
The U.S. government has also been taking efforts to ensure the conservation of the panther. The animal has been identified under Endangered Species Act 1973. According that Act, “it is unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase any wild animal (alive or dead including parts, products, eggs or offspring)” (Clark M. G, 1993)
One strategic measures that has been employed to ensure survival and increase in the numbers of the remaining panther species in the U.S. is, restoration and re-introduction of captive bred panthers to the wild which could help in the cross-breeding with those that are in the wild hence increase the numbers.
Building of passes under highway known as alligator alley especially where the panthers were killed to ensure that the animals pass through a different route from where the vehicle passes has played a great role in protection. Having established animals right of way fencing stretching for 40 miles, there has been no more killing of the panther due to collisions with the vehicles.
Panther study has also been a way that will make efforts to preserve the animal successful. Trackers and veterinary locate the panthers and those that are found to be in good health are taken care of. The information about their feaces, blood, their skin and their colour are analyzed and the tracking collar is put in the neck. The panthers are also immunized and given vitamins to ensure that they are healthy. Efforts to restore genetics-introduction of new genetic cougars in the wild and in the captive have also helped in the conservation.
U.S. citizens also have a responsibility to help protect and save the panther, they need to support programs that protect panther habitat and stay informed on issues, contact legislators and let them know that there is citizen support for programs to help panthers. Programs for the citizens to support preservation of the Florida Panther through donations will help promote the existence of the animal. There has been a license plate that generates around 1million dollars per year, an amount that helps in supporting the research and recovery programs.
Another major way of preserving the animal is by ensuring that there is enough habitat. Panther requires a great deal of land to ensure it roams freely and also there is enough prey to feed on. Programs to ensure the survival for animal increase in the future have to incorporate the land expansion so that the carrying capacity is not exceeded with the growing number. A map shows that almost all the land would be necessary for the long term conservation needs would occur in the South West Florida countries of Collier, Hendry, Lee, Glades and charlotte. (Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission 1976)
If strategies and steps concerning the conservation and protection of the panther’s species are taken in good time, the extinction threat that has been witnessed of the Florida Panther could be lifted. Enough space and habitat for the animal are important for the survival of the species and should therefore not be interfered with. However if the trend of habitat destruction continues due to industrialization and urbanization, the number of the animal would continue to diminish threatening their survival. This would eventually lead to their extinction.
References Clarke D.B, 1994, Place Of the Wild: A Wild lands Anthology. Island Press.
Clark M. G, 1993, The Endangered Florida Panther, Cobble hill Books
David S. Maehr, 1997. The Florida Panther: Life and Death of a Vanishing Carnivore
Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC), 1976 Status and location of any viable panther.
O’Brien S. J., 2005. Animal Ancestors. Macmillan Publishers
National Geographic Society (U.S.), 1985 National Geographic. National Geographic Society.
Rogers J.J., Paul Geoffrey Feiss, 1998, People and the Earth: Basic Issues In The Sustainability Of Resources And Environment Cambridge University Press, Tears Of the Cheetah
Richard Frank Ham, Jonathan D. Ballou, David A. Briscoe, Karina H. Mcinness, 2002 Introduction To Conservation Genetics. Cambridge University Press.