Cougar Conservation

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Here at the Wildlife Safari we devote a lot of time and effort to promote conservation all around the world. From the tigers of Sumatra and the Asiatic cheetahs of Iran there are small pockets of animals all over the world in need of conservational help. Far too often we think of conservation as something that people are doing in far off exotic lands but in reality it’s closer than you think. In the tip of Florida’s peninsula there is a population of cougars once thought to be genetically distinct from their mountainous counter parts. Cougars, pumas, mountain lions and the Florida panther are all different names for essentially the same animal.  In the past, we thought that there were many different subspecies of cougar but recently, through genetic research, we found out that they are all genetically the same. The Florida panther is losing its habitat at a staggering rate; they now occupy around 5% of their historical range and male cougars can protect a territory of up to 200 square miles!  Much like the Sumatran tiger, they are facing many issues associated with a dwindling habitat. Due to its small habitat range there has been a lot of inbreeding which has resulted in many of the issue associated with it. The inbreeding has caused many of the cougars to have notched ears and kinked tails. These physical traits are nothing compared to the issues that are not visable. The Florida cougar is extremely susceptible to diseases because of their lack of genetic diversity; their cubs also have many birth defects that reduce their chance of reaching maturity. Habitat loss, inbreeding and negative human interactions have reduced the cougar’s population to around 200 in Florida. Hope is not all lost however; there are a few groups of people working to help conserve the Florida panther.  One such organization is the Nature Conservancy. They are working with local governments to add legislation that increases the protected lands of the Florida panther. Their efforts have allowed the Florida panther to roam freely in their natural habitat without human interaction. In fact, they recently spotted a mother and her cubs crossing the Caloosahatchee River, a place that has not seen cougars in 40 years!  With the continued efforts of the Nature Conservancy and other similar groups, there is a strong chance that we can provide the Florida panther with enough habitat to bounce back from the troubles caused by inbreeding. Some scientists have even taken a more hands on approach to correcting the genetic issues caused by inbreeding. The Florida Fish and Wildlife arranged for 8 female cougars to be transplanted from Texas to Florida. While this is an extreme measure and should only be repeated if absolutely needed it did produce some fantastic results. They found that the cubs from these mothers were 3 times more likely to survive when compared to 118 cubs that were monitored in the same time period. However controversial, this type of transplanting can greatly increase genetic diversity should we fail to increase their habitat range. Regardless of the method of conservation the future is looking brighter for the Florida panther already, its numbers have increased from 30 to around 200 since the 1980’s. Conservation is something we all should be mindful of in our daily lives and it really does happen closer than you think. Take time to research species in your area that are in need and see if it’s feasible to help by donating to trusted organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Together we can all work towards a brighter future of endangered species all over the world. If you are ever in Winston Oregon come visit the Wildlife Safari Park village and see our resident cougars Tasha and Johnny.

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