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.
|A COWLICK IN THE FUR
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.
|TEXAS COUGAR 106
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
|A KINK IN THE TAIL
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.
| FLORIDA PANTHER