Environment

Mama Florida panther euthanized as state probes mysterious disease. Her kittens being tested.

A female Florida panther was euthanized after a mysterious neurological disease left it unable to walk or care for its two male kittens.

The radio-collared endangered panther had been observed since July by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission trail cameras. Its rear legs appeared weak as it struggled to coordinate its steps. She had two male kittens that were estimated to be two weeks old in early July, so FWC staff decided to place the young panthers in captivity as they would not have survived in the wild on their own, according to a statement on Wednesday.

This month the mother was also captured and euthanized after her health deteriorated, FWC said.

“Due to the animal’s poor condition and the unlikelihood of recovery or improvement, the decision was made to humanely euthanize it,” the FWC said in the statement. A complete necropsy was conducted and results are pending.

Nine other panthers — mostly kittens — and four adult bobcats have showed similar symptoms: varying degrees of rear leg weaknesses that make it hard for the animals to walk. In August the FWC confirmed neurological damage in one panther and one bobcat after necropsies.

Panthers are one of Florida’s iconic native species and are considered endangered, which adds a sense of urgency to the FWC’s probe into what’s causing the heartbreaking condition, said Elizabeth Fleming, from Defenders of Wildlife. There are between 120 to 230 adult panthers in the population, according to FWC estimates.

“They didn’t make this decision (to euthanize) lightly, but it will hopefully shed light on what is causing this condition,” Fleming said.

While the number of animals displaying the symptoms is small, FWC is boosting monitoring efforts and testing for various potential toxins, including rat pesticide, as well as infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies, Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said in a statement in August.

“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,” he said.

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