More than a decade ago, wildlife scientists introduced 8 Texas cougars into Florida – hoping to help the failing panther population rebound. New research suggests the effort was successful.
At the time there were only 30 adult Florida panthers left, and many showed signs of inbreeding. By introducing Texas cougars – which are part of the same species as the panther – scientists hoped to bolster the population, and add to its genetic diversity. There are now 87 adult Florida panthers. This new study concludes that introducing the Texas cougar is a large…if not primary…factor behind the increase. Stuart Pimm of Duke University is the study’s principal author. He says he was skeptical of the plan to introduce cougars at first.
“As it turned out, I was wrong. With the introduction of some cats from Texas…5 of them eventually bred. And their children and grandchildren have dramatically increased the number of panthers in south Florida. And importantly, increased the places where they could live. The hybrid panthers seem to be a lot more vigorous at occupying areas where we didn’t think panthers occurred in the past.”
Pimm’s study found that hybrid kittens are three times more likely to reach adulthood than purebred panthers. The hybrid cats ARE still considered a federally listed endangered species.
Pimm says the study is probably controversial – because other scientists have stated that some areas cannot sustain panthers and therefore development should not be limited.
“What our work shows is that panthers can occupy a lot more areas than we previously thought. So to use the argument that panthers are not present in this area so it’s ok to develop it…that argument isn’t going to work anymore.”
There has also been contention over how the study was done. Pimm’s conclusions are based on data contained in thousands of pages of documents compiled by various agencies – like the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. In a recent article in the Journal Science – the Commission’s panther team leader – Darrell Land – said Pimm’s team might have acted unethically by using other people’s data. Pimm says all his conclusions are drawn using data from public documents.
Wednesday, 24 August 2005 01:00