Captive Breeding Program Getting Green Light
ATLANTA (AP) _ The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is prepared to issue permits allowing the capture of eight to 10 Florida panthers a year for the next three to six years in an effort to save the endangered species.
The Florida panther is a subspecies of cougar, also known as puma or mountain lion. Although it once roamed much of the Southeast, it is making its last stand in southwestern Florida. Only 30 to 50 adult animals are believed to survive.
″As it stands now, you’ve got the whole population clustered in one corner of southwest Florida. Just one hurricane is all it would take to wipe out the whole species,″ said Dennis Jordan, coordinator of the Florida Panther Interagency Committee, a group of state and federal wildlife agencies.
Captive breeding, which could begin next month, is only one part of the effort to save the Florida panther, said Vicki Boatwright, spokeswoman for the federal agency’s Southeast regional office in Atlanta.
″The most important part is habitat preservation,″ she said Monday.
Congress has provided for expansion of parks and wildlife refuges in the area to protect habitat for the animals. The panthers use about 2.2 million acres of land, of which about 1.2 million acres is publicly owned.
It won’t be too hard to find kittens, said David Maehr, a Florida biologist. Six of seven adult females being tracked by radio collar have given birth this year and the seventh is believed to be pregnant.
Analyses conducted by the Florida Panther Interagency Committee concluded the species would be extinct within 40 years under prevailing conditions.
Final approval of the captive breeding program would allow the state to capture up to six kittens and four older animals in the first year and up to six kittens and two older animals in following years.
Applications to be part of the breeding program have come from several Florida zoos, including the Jacksonville Zoo, Tampa’s Lowery Park Zoo, the Miami Metrozoo and the White Oak Plantation at Yulee.