Friday, September 24, 2010

Florida Panther Outlook Improves

Panther Population Now More Than 100

LABELLE, FL. -- A paper published in the journal "Science" on Friday focuses on the long-term efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and partner agencies to improve the health of the Florida panther population. Through a process called genetic restoration, scientists have helped increase the population of 20 to 30 animals in the early 1990s to the current population of at least 100.

Genetic restoration involves adding new genetic material into a small, isolated population that has suffered the ill effects of inbreeding. Before genetic restoration, many panthers were diagnosed with heart problems, fertility issues, and low levels of genetic variation. To address these problems, scientists introduced eight female pumas from Texas to breed within the dwindling Florida panther population in 1995.

"We are excited by the success of this project," said Dr. Dave Onorato, FWC biologist. "We now have a larger, healthier population that more closely resembles what we would have expected to find in the once-widespread Florida panther population before it became reduced in numbers and isolated in South Florida."

This project has played an important role in the improvements to the health and size of the panther population in Florida. However, other factors, such as land preservation, wildlife underpasses and cooperative agreements between private landowners and non-governmental organizations also contributed to the population increase and will continue to play an important role in the recovery of panthers.

Genetic restoration of the Florida panther has been a multi-agency effort involving the FWC, the National Cancer Institute, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many non-governmental organizations. These agencies worked with world-renowned experts in conservation genetics and the management of large carnivores to produce the Plan for Genetic Restoration in 1994.

Funding for panther research and management conducted by the FWC comes exclusively from fees collected when Florida residents purchase "Protect the Florida panther" specialty license plates. People wishing to replace a license plate with one of these tags can do so at any tax collector's office.

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