A neurological disorder found in some Florida panthers is affecting their ability to walk, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said on Monday, as it asked the public for help locating the affected animals.
In a press release, the FWC said that the animals affected by the disorder “exhibit some degree of walking abnormally” or have “difficulty coordinating their back legs.”
As of this month, the FWC has confirmed “neurological damage” in one panther and one bobcat, but trail camera footage has captured eight more panthers — mostly kittens — and one adult bobcat with varying degrees of the condition that causes them to stumble, fall and lose control of their hind legs.
“While the number of animals exhibiting these symptoms is relatively few, we are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue,” Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said.
McRae said that “a definitive cause” of the condition hasn’t been determined, but “numerous diseases and possible causes have been ruled out.”
“We’re working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a wide array of experts from around the world to determine what is causing this condition,” McRae added.
The FWC said it’s testing for infectious diseases, nutritional deficiencies and potential toxins — including rat pesticide.
Florida panthers are native to the state, and are considered an endangered species, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF estimates that there are only 120 to 130 Florida panthers left in the wild.
The animals are typically found in the southern portion of the state, and are vulnerable to diseases, including feline leukemia, and threats, including habitat loss and low genetic diversity, according to the NWF.
In their statement, the FWC asked the public to help with their investigation into the disorder by sending in footage that captures the animals struggling to walk.
The organization said that video files could be uploaded to their panther sighting webpage, or emailed to Panther.Sightings@MyFWC.com.