One of the key components of preserving the Florida  Panther for future generations was the decision to bring in new blood, which could help restore gene flow to what was at the time a  withering race of cats.

  All photos in this essay are courtesy of FWC.


Genetic Restoration

As with all other measures adopted to help this cat survive, genetic restoration was not without its critics. Thankfully for the panther, it achieved victory over the arguments raised against it.
In the early 1990s on going research by the Florida panther recovery team brought to light the failing health of our southern cats. Genetic abnormalities found in the estimated 30 cats that remained - from the aesthetic cowlick to the kinky tail, life threatening heart defects, to debilitating pathogen and parasite infestations, procreating disabilities, and the general lethargy observed in the cats were all signs of severe inbreeding, which left the last viable population of puma east of the Mississippi River teetering on the brink of extinction.



So the hunt was on to find out which of the surviving pumas in America would be the most compatible mates for Florida panthers. The prize winning DNA sprang from the Texas cougar, and in 1995 eight female cougars were translocated and released into the Everglades. After mating with local male panthers 5 of those females produced litters. The offspring that survived from those pairings were hardier and seemed to lend their strength to the kits that followed. With these fresh genes came vitality, more cats were surviving and reproducing. The panthers that came from those family lines affected the population in a positive way.


The population today is believed to be 100 -160 cats. For the Florida panther to be an American success story the panther cannot continue as a distinct & only population, we need a couple of healthy populations, and at least 500 or more panthers living throughout habitable wilderness. Moral of the story there is strength in numbers. South west Florida cannot support this many, the hope is, the current population will disperse and re colonize previous portions of their historic range, which includes neighboring states, and that wildlife corridors will then allow these cats to inter breed. They may do this naturally by moving on their own, or we may need to help them.
The problem is the gene pool of our current panther colony remains small, and in a group of 100 or so cats, inbreeding will continue to pose a risk, which means an injection of Texas cougar is needed about every 7- 10yrs until other breeding populations can be established.




People feared that bringing in cougars would gradually cause the Florida panther to lose its “unique characteristics”. This makes it sound like importing cougars was a bad thing, like somehow gene flow is diluting what makes a panther a panther, gradually loosing its purity. But this is not the case, instead of loosing it is actually gaining from this process. This is not about pure blood but True blood, which requires an exchange of genes. By exterminating the eastern puma we cut off these populations and in so doing prevented their ability to continue to exchange with each other, if we had left these animals alone, this natural exchange would be taking place today.


What made these so called unique characteristics of the Florida panther anyway - environmental and geological elements which are still acting upon the cat today, its isolation of 100 yrs because thousands of their kind were slaughtered by our kind, rendering them incapable of evolving as nature would have allowed them to do.


I believe their true uniqueness lies in their ability to live and continue to evolve in the Florida pinelands & swamps, as well as sharing lands bordering with human sprawl as it creeps into what was once was panther territory. Their uniqueness does not simply lie in the measurement of their skull and the rise of their nasal arch, it lies in their power to adapt, it always has. To adapt and survive the changes in their environment and the challenges those changes bring. Panther power will surely be tested, and proven, if they can survive and thrive along side us, in spite of all we have done to destroy them.



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