Panther Capture Work

Florida Panther Kittens
Male Florida panther kittens that were marked in 2007.

Ralph Arwood

Big Cypress Panther Capture Work
The National Park Service (NPS) established a Florida panther capture team in Big Cypress National Preserve in 2003. The purpose of the work is to radio collar a percentage of the population of cats and track movements. Ultimately the work will provide a better understanding of panther habitat needs, and allow us to determine impacts of development, human use and other activities on the panther population.

In 2007, the NPS had an intensive and successful February capturing panthers. In 22 days of hunting, they treed 12 panthers. Four of these panthers (3 females and 1 male) had never been collared. It was found that two of the four had been handled before, thanks to the microchip placed under their skin when they were kittens in a den. Florida panther #150, that started out as kitten #152, was born in July of 2003. Florida panther #151 was marked as kitten #113 in her den in April of 2002. Information such as this helps determine how successfully panthers survive to adulthood.

The team also changed the radio-collar on 4 panthers, and, in 4 situations, decided to leave the panther without handling it because it was too high in the tree for a safe capture.

During February of 2007, the team also marked 2 male kittens in the den of Florida panther #124. They are the 224th and 225th kittens handled at dens since April of 1992.

 
Panther capture hounds with a sedated cat.
Panther capture hounds, with their handler, over a sedated cat.

Ralph Arwood

Who has the toughest job on a capture team?
This is of course debatable, but those with probably the toughest job can’t talk. While the humans on the team ride on swamp buggies, it is the hounds that trail a panther through palmetto thickets, vines, and scrubby hardwoods as they follow the scent of the panther’s route from the previous night. In one case this year, hounds, Chewy, Riley, Noonie, and Buddy, trailed a panther for over 10 miles.

 
Field Biologist assisting to remove a sedated panther from a tree.
The Field Biologist working on getting a sedated panther out of a tree.

Ralph Arwood

Of the human component of the capture team, tree climber, Dennis Giardina, would be a candidate for having the toughest job. In February of 2007, he came face to face 3 times with a sedated panther in a tree, kept his cool as always, and safely tied and lowered the panthers to the net below.
 
Florida Panther 150
Florida Panther 150 soon after being treed by the tracking hounds.

Ralph Arwood

The wrong place at the wrong time…
On February 8, 2007, after a long day of hunting for panthers, the Big Cypress capture team was headed out of the woods along Concho Billie Trail in Big Cypress. As Rocky McBride, the houndsman, and veterinarian Dr. Erik Madison, were driving out on the buggy in front, they commented on how few deer they had seen that day. Just then, Rocky said, “Oh, there’s two deer crossing the prairie.” But, as he turned the corner and got a better look, he exclaimed, “Those aren’t deer, those are two panthers!” He hopped off the driver’s seat and let his hounds out of the dog box in back. Both panthers, an adult female and a yearling, were treed. The female is now collared as #150. Finding panthers is rarely this easy.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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