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Fla. Gets $150K To Study Disorder Afflicting Wild Bobcats, Endangered Panthers

A Florida panther
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region
A Florida panther

Thanks to people who buy a special Florida license plate, $150,000 is going toward the effort to figure out what’s causing a debilitating disorder in wild bobcats and endangered panthers.

The neuromuscular disorder, called feline leukomyelopathy (FLM), was first discovered in 2018 around Corkscrew Swamp in Collier County in Southwest Florida and has also been found in Alachua, Charlotte, and Pasco counties. 

Since then, eight wildcats (six bobcats and two Florida panthers) have been confirmed to have it with 16 more suspected (11 Florida panthers and five bobcats) in other areas of the state. Small numbers, but not insignificant for Florida’s dwindling wildcat population.

The affected animals have trouble coordinating their hind legs and some of them have died.

Conservationists worry the disorder could set back the state’s efforts to revive the endangered Florida panther.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is trying to understand what causes FLM. At the moment, potential suspects are an infectious pathogen like a virus or bacteria, a nutritional issue, or some kind of toxin.

The new funding from the nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida will help the FWC collect data using trail cameras and diagnostic tests. Trail camera footage has already captured nine panthers, most of them kittens, and four adult bobcats showing symptoms of FLM.

“We are committed to the conservation of Florida’s wildcats and hope this significant grant helps FWC determine the cause of FLM and eliminate it before it does further harm to our wildlife,” said Foundation President and CEO Andrew Walker.

The grant was approved by the Foundation’s board of directors in March.

Funding comes from the “Conserve Wildlife” Florida license plate.

The FWC is asking the public to continue submitting videos and pictures of wildlife that appear to have trouble with their rear legs at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings and to report dead or hurt panthers to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC.