IMMOKALEE, Fla. - Florida panthers are a top predator in their ecosystem that are also an endangered species facing an unknown disorder affecting the state’s wild cats. Against those obstacles, it was an exciting moment when state wildlife officials spotted two panther kittens that appear healthy.
The young cats and their mom, affectionally named "Broketail," were seen last week at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, located near Naples and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Broketail was named after her actual broken tail.
After U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received "real-time imagery provided by one of the refuge’s cellular cameras," officers placed a video trail camera at the location where they were spotted, and, surprisingly, they returned to the same spot during the day.
"The kittens appear to be healthy, with no visible signs of feline leukomyelopathy (FLM), which was the main reason that we wanted to get video of these cats," according to a Facebook post by the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
This is the second litter of 2021 kittens that have been photographed, officials said.
Broketail was also captured in trail cameras in 2012 with two of her kittens back then. Officials said she has produced several litters at the refuge.
Wildlife officials believe the kittens' father is a cat known as "FP260." That male panther was struck by a vehicle on Oil Well Road, located north of the refuge, in December 2020. He was captured by Florida wildlife biologists on December 9, and taken to the Glass Animal Hospital at Naples Zoo for examination.
It turned out he had no injuries from the car accident and was returned to the wild.
As for the mysterious illness, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to investigate the disorder, which has also been detected in Florida bobcats. The affected animals have different degrees of rear leg weaknesses.
The cause of FLM is not yet determined. Anyone who has photos or video showing wildlife that appear to have problems with their rear legs is asked to submit the content to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings. Dead or injured panthers can be reported to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
The panther is the larger of Florida’s two native cats. They once roamed the entire southeast, but now their habitat mostly is confined to a small region of Florida. Up to 230 Florida panthers remain in the wild.
So far in 2021, there have been 21 confirmed panther deaths, most were a result of a vehicle collision, according to FWC. Within just the first week of the year, a 3-year-old female panther and a 2-year-old female panther died after they were struck by a vehicle.