Examination of Dead Panthers

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission veterinarians perform a complete necropsy (animal autopsy) on all panthers found dead in the wild.  Any panther they suspect was killed illegally is sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Forensic Laboratory to be examined by board-certified veterinary pathologists. In all panther necropsies, a thorough examination of the dead panther can provide important information as to the true cause of death, as well as other factors affecting the panther’s health.

Each dead panther receives a complete external examination to document any abnormalities such as wounds, fractures, congenital abnormalities (i.e. kinked tail), and parasites. The panther is weighed, and multiple measurements of the animal are recorded. The panther’s age is estimated by size and weight but also by the wearing down of the panther’s teeth. Evidence of previous lactation (production of milk) can provide information as to whether or not a female has nursed kittens. Hair and tissues are collected for DNA analysis, and photos are taken of any significant findings.

Radiographs (X-rays) are taken of each dead panther to assess any traumatic injuries, such as recent or healed bone fractures or the presence of bullet fragments, and to check for a transponder chip (which would indicate the panther had been handled by scientists in the past). These images provide valuable clues as to the cause of death, as well as potential evidence if an animal has been illegally killed. FWC veterinarians have learned that many panthers suffer from traumatic injuries such as broken bones. 

Following the external exam and radiographs, each dead panther receives a complete necropsy where all tissues are examined. Samples of blood and organs are collected and submitted to several specialized laboratories to analyze overall health of the animal at the time of death. Testing for infectious diseases (such as feline leukemia virus and pseudorabies virus) and toxins is also performed. Additional samples are collected, preserved or frozen, and saved for any future testing that may be indicated.

Following necropsy, some panther remains will be saved for educational purposes. Bones, such as skulls, may be saved and used for anatomical comparisons. Panthers also may be mounted as complete specimens for display in natural history museums and other educational facilities. These specimens serve as valuable tools in promoting education about the Florida panther.

FWC Facts:
Some biologists feel that mullet jump because they are trying to remove parasites. Others believe it may be part of schooling behavior in mullet.

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