TAMPA, Fla. — ZooTampa at Lowry Park is currently caring for two orphaned Florida panther kittens after their mother suffered an unknown neurological disorder.
The team of keepers at the zoo is being led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This mysterious disorder affects panthers and bobcats and is being investigated by Florida scientists.
"While veterinarians cannot predict to what degree the kittens may become affected, they are currently active, playful, and healthy overall," said Dr. Lara Cusack, a veterinarian at FWC's Research Institute.
The kittens were living at the Zoo's Tiedemann-Cotton Animal Care Annex, but are now housed at the Catherine Lowry Veterinary Hospital. Once they're out of quarantine and get health clearance, the zoo plans to put them on public view to be ambassadors for the native species.
The zoo said trail cameras caught sight of the kittens' mother in July. She was struggling to walk, and FWC removed her kittens because they were unlikely to service in the wild. When the mother's health deteriorated, she was humanely euthanized, the zoo said.
Researchers hope the panther's necropsy results and other testing will help determine what's causing the disorder.
The state has been investigating the neurological disorder since this summer after some Florida panthers and bobcats were observed walking unusually and struggling to use their back legs. FWC said videos of affected cats were collected from Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties.
Investigators are testing for various potential toxins, including neurotoxic rodenticide (rat pesticide). They're also looking into infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies.
Florida panthers are an endangered species native to the Sunshine State.
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