State wildlife officials are investigating after some Florida panthers and bobcats in Southwest Florida have been seen struggling to walk. They are showing difficulty coordinating their back legs and appear to be suffering from a debilitating condition.
It's a concerning situation Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say they are taking seriously — but they don't know why it's happening.
According to a news release from FWC, the agency has confirmed neurological damage in one panther and one bobcat, so far.
Meanwhile, trail camera footage captured eight endangered panthers that were mostly kittens and an adult bobcat displaying the mysterious condition.
Videos of affected cats were from Collier, Lee and Sarasota counties. At least one panther was photographed in Charlotte County, which looks like it was also affected, according to FWC.
Is debilitating condition affecting dogs, too?
“While the number of animals exhibiting these symptoms is relatively few, we are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue,” said Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a news release.
“Numerous diseases and possible causes have been ruled out; a definitive cause has not yet been determined. We’re working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a wide array of experts from around the world to determine what is causing this condition,” McRae said.
The FWC is testing for potential toxins, including neurotoxic rodenticide, which is rat pesticide, as well as infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies.
"While numerous diseases and possible causes including distemper, cerebellar hypoplasia, and degenerative myelopathy have been considered, a definitive cause has not been determined," FWC spokesperson Carli Segelson, told the Sun Thursday.
And the cause is not the only open question.
"It is unknown how many animals may be affected by this condition," Segelson said. "The FWC has evidence of less than ten animals (including the bobcat). Since most of the evidence is from videos, it is at times difficult to tell if some of the affected animals are ones that have already been documented."
Wildlife officials say the public can help.
They're asking for any trail camera footage or videos showing animals that appear to have problems with their rear legs.