Two endangered Florida panthers have found a home in Northeast Florida after a mysterious neurological disorder left their mother unable to care for them.
They’ve been taken in my White Oak Conservation in Yulee after receiving months of care at Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida in Naples and ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
State wildlife officials decided to rescue the kittens, named Cypress and Pepper, after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed the radio-collared mother on trail camera footage as she struggled to walk, hobbled by rear leg weakness.
In early July, state wildlife officials took in her two male kittens, then estimated to be two weeks old, because they would not have survived on their own.
“These young kittens will live out their lives at White Oak in peace and safety,” said Mark Walter, White Oak’s owner, who leads Walter Conservation with his wife, Kimbra.
Other panthers and bobcats have demonstrated similar rear leg weakness. The FWC is monitoring the issue and exploring possible causes, such as exposure to toxins, infectious disease or a nutritional deficiency.
The mother in this case had to be captured and euthanized after her health deteriorated, according to White Oak Conservation.
The organization in a news release said the species was headed toward extinction until the Endangered Species Preservation Act. The Florida panther was among the first to gain protection under the landmark 1966 federal law.
White Oak has 17,000 riverfront acres, providing a refuge for more than 17 endangered species.