January 20, 2022

FWC hopeful recent panther mating produced litter

By: Vicki Parsons - IT


Dec 21, 2021 Updated Dec 21, 2021

BABCOCK RANCH — A Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute camera captured a pair of panthers mating at Babcock Ranch Preserve, inspiring hope that their pairing resulted in a litter.

“Breeding north of the Caloosahatchee River is crucial to the long-term viability of the Florida Panther population,” said FWC panther biologist Brian Kelly.

He said the mating, which took place on Aug. 24, if successful would “result in a litter of kittens that would have been born around Nov. 22.”

He said the kittens wouldn’t emerge from the den until sometime in January, but since they are not collared, the only way biologists would know of their existence would be through images captured on one of 20 cameras at Babcock Ranch Preserve.

“There are an estimated 120 to 230 adult panthers in south Florida,” Kelly said.

He said the panther population “needs to expand into central Florida,” as the animals require a large territory. Each panther requires a habitat of some 200 miles.

Although cameras have captured other panthers at Babcock Ranch Preserve, “this is the first to capture an actual mating,” he said.

After mating, panthers stay together “for only two to three days,” he explained.

The female goes off on her own to have the kittens, who would emerge from their den in about two months.

The female panther stays with her offspring for about a year. She might leave the den to go off and hunt, but she is with them until they can survive and hunt on their own, said Kelly.

The same female and male might mate again if they are in the same territory, but the male has no role in rearing the litter, he added.

After about two years, the male offspring in the litter will go off on their own, while females might stay closer to their home range.

But there are exceptions, and sometimes all offspring go off in search of their own territory, said Kelly.

The panther population, as low as it is, is still an improvement from the 1980s and 1990s, he said.

The biggest cause of the panther’s dwindling population “is loss of habitat,” Kelly explained.

Since each panther needs about 200 square miles, encroachment by humans has caused panthers to compete for resources on more limited acreage.

Another potential hazard panthers face is injury and death from motor vehicles.

A newer problem has hit the panther population. First noticed several years ago when panthers and bobcats were captured on camera, dragging their legs, scientists soon discovered they were suffering from a neurological disease called FLM — feline leukomyelopathy, Kelly said.