Rare cats imperiled by habitat fragmentation
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —A Florida panther kitten that was raised in a wildlife facility after its mother died will be released to the wild this week in Big Cypress National Preserve.
The wild cat, identified as K304, will be set free Nov. 1 at the Burns Lake Campground and Backcountry Access site off from Burns Lake Road. The road is located approximately six miles east of State Road 29 and 13 miles west of the Oasis Visitor Center on U. S. 41. Turn north on Burns Lake road, drive one mile and the campground/access point is on the left.
The public is invited to attend, however, no guarantee is made of seeing the cat beyond a brief glimpse as it runs into the woods.
Background on K304
On October 25, 2010, through on-going tracking activity within the Preserve, it was discovered that the radio-collar of female panther FP102 was emitting a mortality signal. Upon reaching the site of the signal, National Park Service biologists found the remains of the cat. A subsequent necropsy confirmed that FP102 had died from wounds received during a fight. Five months earlier the cat had give birth to two male kittens. After the death of FP102, one of the offspring, K304, was discovered orphaned. His sibling was never found.
Upon discovering K304 the National Park Service, working closely with other agencies, transported the kitten to the White Oak Conservation Center, a wildlife facility in northeastern Florida. At the facility K304 was cared for and housed in appropriate facilities with minimal human contact. Now K304, a young, healthy cat, is of the age that it can be released near the area it was born.
The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) once ranged throughout most of the southeastern United States. Today, the Florida panther presently occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range. The only breeding population today is located in south Florida, where roughly 80 panthers remain in the wild.
The panther requires large contiguous areas that contain its prey and it needs dense understory for feeding, resting, and denning. The principal threats to the panther include habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation resulting from urbanization and agricultural development; reduced genetic diversity; and mortality associated with road hazards and potential disease outbreaks.
A draft recovery plan calls for establishing two viable populations of at least 240 individuals and sufficient habitat to support these populations is protected in the long term.
Additionally, delisting of the Florida panther entirely should be considered when:
• Three viable, self-sustaining populations of at least 240 individuals each have been established and maintained for 14 years; and,
• Sufficient habitat to support these populations is protected in the long term.
The Florida Panther Recovery Plan includes provisions that contemplate reintroduction of panthers in locations across the Southeast.
Currently, only about 100 panthers remain the wild, and conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force the designation of critical habitats for the cats.