DNA links cougar killed in Georgia's Troup County to south Florida panther population

Young male was 140 pounds, 88 inches, well fed

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 5, 2009 

The tests are in, and the cat was wild.

DNA tests show the cougar a Newnan man shot in Troup County last November was a Florida panther, and apparently not, as authorities initially suspected, an animal that had been held captive.

“Because Florida panthers had not been documented in Georgia in years, it was initially thought that this animal might have escaped or have been intentionally released from captivity,” reads a press release the Georgia Department of Natural Resources sent out this afternoon. “With the genetic confirmation that the animal is a Florida panther, it is possible that this animal traveled from south Florida to Georgia.”

A Newnan man hunting from a tree stand shot the animal Nov. 16, 2008, on U.S. Corps of Engineers land near Abbottsford, west of LaGrange on the Alabama border. He reported it to state authorities.

An examination revealed the panther to be “in excellent nutritional condition,” the state says. The 140-pound male cat was 88 inches long from its nose to the tip of its tail.

It was examined at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens. No microchips, tags, tattoos or other means of marking a captive animal turned up.

But the cat was reported to be well-fed and fat, with a low parasite level, as though it had not been feeding on wild game. Also authorities said the cat’s pads were scuffed like it had been caged on concrete.

The DNA results mean a Florida panther may roam far beyond its typical range on the southwest end of the Florida peninsula.

Georgia’s press statement on the DNA tests quotes Tim Breault, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s director of Habitat and Species Conservation:

“We have had evidence of Florida panthers as far north as the Florida panhandle. Young males, in an attempt to develop their own territory, will often wander far from their home range. We think this may have been the case in this situation.”

The evidence mentioned is cougar roadkill, says Georgia’s press statement.

Quoting Paul Souza, South Florida Ecological Services field supervisor, it says: “Finding a Florida panther that far from southwest Florida is out of the ordinary, but male panthers, particularly younger ones, can travel great distances. While it’s unusual for panthers to be seen that far north, it is not impossible for a young male to travel so far.”

The genetic testing linking the cougar to the southwest Florida panther population was conducted by the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity.

Florida panthers belong to the last subspecies of Puma left in the eastern United States. Once they prowled throughout the Southeast. Now only 100 to 120 remain in south Florida, their range less than 5 percent of what it once spanned.

For more, visit www.fws.gov/verobeach.

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