Neurological issue affecting Florida panthers more widespread than previously thought: FWC

FWC offered a concerning update to a mysterious neurological disorder affecting Florida’s panthers and bobcats. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed the condition is not just contained to South Florida and could be a widespread issue.

It is a disorder that is still puzzling authorities. A neurological condition is causing Florida panthers and bobcats to stumble, lose their balance, and struggle to walk.

"It is very scary, and every Floridian should be concerned,” said Bill Samuels, president of the Florida Panther Project.

The cause is still a mystery.  But the disorder now has a name. The FWC has termed the disorder feline leukomyelopathy, or FLM.

"That's a long term, but to people who are familiar with the term it was very scary,” Samules said. “It means that lesions are appearing in the brain and spinal cord of these animals causing them to stumble and not have control over their hind legs"

As of last month, two panthers and four bobcats have been confirmed to have FLM. And trail cameras have captured 13 other big cats displaying the symptoms.

“Behaving like they can't control their hind legs, they're dragging their hind legs, or they just seem to not be able to balance correctly even though they're alert," said Samuels.

Additionally, FLM no longer localized to South Florida like investigators initially thought. Bobcats with the condition have been confirmed in Collier County, 300-miles north in Alachua County, and one in Hillsborough County.

"Now the search for a culprit has widened,” Samuels said. “As the geography has widened, so has the search parameters for the people charged with finding this."

But that's also a problem.  So far, officials have not been able to pinpoint what's causing FLM.  And nothing has been ruled out.

"It should concern everybody because this is something that could be in the water; this could be something that’s in the environment that all of us share," said Samuels. "We're still a ways out maybe from finding out exactly what's causing it."

While officials work to figure that out, there are ways you can help.  The FWC is asking anyone who captures video or pictures of wildlife having problems with their rear legs to report it right away.