Mysterious panther illness may be linked to toxic algae, professor says

Trail camera footage has captured some Florida panthers displaying difficulty walking. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission confirms at least one panther and one bobcat died of neurological problems, and state officials believe more could be suffering from the same illness.

However, the cause remains a mystery.

While scientists with FWC continue to look for answers, Dr. Larry Brand, a professor of marine biology and ecology at the University of Miami, believes it may have something to do with Florida's waterways.

"It occurred to me that at least one possibility here is the toxic algae," said Dr. Brand, who has done extensive research on cyanobacteria, the green slime-like algae that was found in Lake Okeechobee and nearby rivers and estuaries in 2018.

According to Dr. Brand, there's a possibility the sick panthers and bobcats may have drank the toxic water or eaten fish from those areas.

He said certain species of blue-green algae produce neurotoxins that can lead to neurological damage.

FWC said it was looking into toxic algae, as well as other possible causes including: distemper, cerebellar hypoplasia, degenerative myelopathy, and neurotoxic rodenticide, also known as rat pesticide.

Dr. Brand warns, if his theory is right, it could pose a threat to humans.

"They're land animals like us, so if these toxins are getting to them, they're probably getting to us as well," Dr. Brand said.