The Florida panther is a symbol of natural Florida. A Florida with healthy environments and ecosystems. Down to less than 40 individuals in the 1970s, their inclusion on the federal Endangered Species list, human intervention to expand their gene pool and rehabilitate injured panthers, and land conservation efforts have brought the reclusive cat to around 200 individuals. But the state animal is still in the fight of its life as their evolutionary prowess is futile against highways, cars, condominiums, and urban sprawl.
Since 1986, White Oak has rehabilitated and released 19 sick or injured Florida panthers. In 2018, White Oak rehabilitated and released a panther family back in the wild together for the first time.
In 2020, White Oak became home to two orphaned Florida panthers, Pepper and Cypress. The seven-month-old kittens were hand-raised at Lowry Park Zoo after a mysterious neurological disorder left their mother unable to care for them. You can learn more about their story here.
Florida panthers are a subspecies of puma also known as the mountain lion or cougar. These large cats are extremely agile and can move silently through a forest, climb trees or move down a mountainside with great ease. Their hind limbs are longer than their forelimbs, which is an adaptation for jumping. Their coat color works well as camouflage in many types of habitat. Panthers are known for their strength and have been documented to take prey 2.4 times their own body weight. This is the largest ratio of prey weight to cat weight of all the big cats.
Panthers are basically solitary, coming together only for mating. The females raise their kittens on their own. Gestation is 90 – 95 days. Kittens are weaned at six months. They may stay with their mother for up to twenty months and siblings may stay together for a few months after that.
In partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, White Oak works to rehabilitate injured or orphaned Florida panthers and return them to their homes in South Florida. The panthers at White Oak are kept in large naturalistic enclosures and have very little interaction with people in order to maintain their wildness and natural instincts. Keepers and veterinarians at White Oak monitor the cats remotely through the use of camera traps and radio telemetry collars during their stay to ensure their health and reduce human contact.