Florida Wildlife Officials Investigate Mystery of Stumbling Panthers

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued a press release on August 19 asking the public for assistance in documenting a peculiar walking disorder affecting certain panthers and bobcats within the state.

According to the press release, “all the affected animals have exhibited some degree of walking abnormally or difficulty coordinating their back legs,” and the FWC confirmed neurological damage in at least one panther and one bobcat.

The cause of the disorder is unknown, but the FWC is testing for toxins, diseases, and nutritional deficiencies and calling for the public to send in any footage they might have of affected big cats in Florida.

This trail footage, captured in May 2018 and courtesy of wildlife photographer Ralph Arwood, shows an example of affected panthers in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples. The kittens in the video appear to have weak rear legs and can be seen noticeably limping and wobbling behind their parent. According to Arwood’s website, the animals may be suffering from tick paralysis, a disease passed by the neurotoxins in tick saliva that can cause weakness in the legs.

The FWC said people should upload any footage they have of stumbling panthers via the URL MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

It is estimated that there are only 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The FWC reports that in the early 1990s the animals were subject to widespread health problems as a result of a small gene pool. “There were probably only 20-30 panthers remaining in the wild,” according to the FWC website. “Genetic health problems at that time included heart defects, poor sperm qualities, and the failure of one or both testicles to properly develop,” the FWC website said.

The population rebounded due to the introduction of eight female pumas from Texas in 1995, according to Ralph Arwood’s website. Credit: Ralph Arwood via Storyful