New Blood Perks Up Florida Panther Population | Community Spirit
USA Today - By the early 1990s there were only 20 to 25 Florida panthers left out of what was once a large and thriving population – and those that remained were sickly and inbred, destined for extinction within 20 years, experts estimated. So in 1995 conservation managers moved eight wild-caught female pumas from Texas to the area – a reintroduction so successful that between 1995 and 2008 a total of 424 panther births have been documented.
Panthers are part of the puma family and are called cougars, mountain lions and pumas depending on where they live.
Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) live in southern Florida swamplands between Miami and Naples. They are the last surviving puma subspecies left in eastern North America.
Because researchers know that there was historic movement between the puma population in Texas (Puma concolor stanleyana), it was felt that introducing the Texan females was genetically appropriate.
The gamble paid off – after the introduction, the panther population tripled. It's also significantly healthier than the inbred population, which suffered from poor sperm quality, low testosterone levels and poor fecundity. The new, hybrid panthers even do a much better job at escaping from high trees during capture than the old ones.
Warren Johnson, with the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, compared genetic data on 591 Florida panthers collected between 1978 and 2009 to study their genetics. The study, published in the journal Science, found the hybrids to be genetically fitter and stronger.
While the population is still under severe stress because its habitat continues to be encroached upon, the new blood offered hope.