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Florida's Big Cats Are Stumbling, and No One Knows Why

Panthers and bobcats in Florida appear to be afflicted with disabling nerve disorder
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2019 8:51 AM CDT
Government officials are trying to figure out what's going on with Florida's panther population.   (Getty Images/Dennis Holcomb, Dennis Holcomb Photography)

(Newser) – There's a problem with Florida's big cats. The New York Times reports on a bunch of strange sightings of panthers and a bobcat in the Sunshine State, caught on trail cameras, that show the felines having trouble walking, caused by an apparent neurological disorder. Kittens seem to be most affected, with a statement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noting that the condition seems to be striking animals in Collier, Lee, and Sarasota counties, with Charlotte County also on the radar. The first footage emerged last year (you can see one of the trail cam videos at the Times), followed by photos from 2017 that cropped up showing a seemingly disabled kitten. The FWC has seen video of eight panthers and one bobcat in this condition, with confirmed nerve issues in one additional panther and bobcat.

Florida panthers are on the endangered species list, with only between 120 and 230 adults existing in the wild. Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, says tests on some affected cats have ruled out certain contagious diseases, and that the agency is now focusing on possible infection, poisoning, or nutritional inadequacies. Even though only a handful of cats have been affected, the FWC is seriously looking into it. "Any disease or condition impacting multiple animals is cause for concern," Segelson tells the Times. Anyone spotting big cats that appear to have issues can report it online on the FWC's sighting portal. (Read more Florida stories.)

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