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Florida felines find Foundation funding

Special to The Star
The Star

TALLAHASSEE – The nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida announced a $150,000 grant to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to research the cause of a debilitating neuromuscular disorder afflicting Florida’s panthers and bobcats.

The disorder, termed feline leukomyelopathy (FLM), was first recognized in 2018 around Corkscrew Swamp in Collier County and has also been documented in Alachua, Charlotte and Pasco counties.

As of April 2020, there have been eight confirmed cases (six bobcats, two Florida panthers) and 16 probable cases (11 panthers, five bobcats).

Affected animals have difficulty coordinating their hind limbs; extreme cases have led to the animal’s death.

FWC is working to understand the cause of FLM; potential culprits are an infectious pathogen like a virus or bacteria, a nutritional issue or a toxin. The Foundation’s grant will allow FWC to collect data via trail cameras, analyze the video data and perform diagnostic tests. This condition has the potential to jeopardize the conservation successes achieved for the endangered Florida panther.

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

The grant was approved by the Foundation’s board of directors at its recent meeting. Funds came from the Conserve Wildlife Florida license plate, which contains the image of a Florida black bear. Twenty-five dollars from each purchase of the “bear tag” supports the conservation of Florida’s rare species and other nongame wildlife. The Foundation is in the process of updating the license plate’s design.

FWC asks the public to continue to submit footage and pictures of wildlife that appear to have problems with their rear legs at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings and to report dead or injured panthers to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). For updates on FLM, please visit MyFWC.com/Panther.