Mystery illness causes Florida panthers and bobcats to stumble and fall

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A press release says a mysterious neurological disorder is impacting their ability to co-ordinate their back legs.

There have been two confirmed cases of neurological damage in a panther and bobcat in Florida as of this month, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

In addition, trail camera footage has captured eight panthers, a lot of them kittens, and one adult bobcat walking abnormally or having difficulty coordinating their back legs. The first footage emerged previous year (you can see one of the trail cam videos at the Times), followed by photos from 2017 that cropped up showing a seemingly disabled kitten.

Affected cats can be seen on video from several locations, including Collier, Lee and Sarasota counties.

At this time the FWC isn't sure what is causing the disorder but is actively testing for various potential toxins, including rat pesticides, as well as infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies. Up to 230 Florida panthers remain in the wild.

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This trail footage, captured in May 2018 and courtesy of wildlife photographer Ralph Arwood, shows an example of affected panthers in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, near Naples.

Although the panther population is small in Florida, conservation efforts that began in the 1970s and '80s, including the federal Endangered Species Act, helped bring them back from the brink of extinction when there were an estimated 20 to 30 panthers left in the state, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The FWC is asking the public to help with its investigation by submitting trail camera footage and other videos showing panthers and bobcats having trouble walking.

McRae said that "a definitive cause" of the condition hasn't been determined, but "numerous diseases and possible causes have been ruled out".

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