FP-162


 FP-162 is perhaps the smartest panther in Big Cypress.  Over the years she has learned that when dogs chase her she should climb the tallest tree around. If the tree is tall enough, we will leave her alone. I have watched her pass many good climbing trees with the dogs close behind, until she found a tree tall enough to get us to go away.  We finally managed to change her collar on February 24, 2015, when she chose a cypress tree that was very large at the base but had been broken off by the wind at about 30 feet. This behavior has given me the opportunity to get some good videos of her climbing down.

 02-23-2014 FP-162

03-04-2014 FP-162


 You can read the story of FP-162’s first capture as told by Dennis Giardina in the Ghost Writer here.


The details of FP-162’s life have been told very nicely in a series of stories written by Deborah Jansen over the years. They are presented below.

Florida Panther 162’s First Denning Attempt Fails


By Deborah Jansen

Early on the morning of February 18, 2008, Rocky McBride’s hounds picked up the scent of a male panther that had traveled through western Big Cypress the previous night. About the same time, John Kellam, BCNP biologist, located male FP-138 by plane in central Big Cypress. He called to the panther capture team, telling us that FP-138 was in a good location for capture. The hounds were already headed in that direction.

FP-138

As it turned out, the hounds trailed FP-138 a straight-line distance of 9.8 kilometers (of course he didn’t go in a straight line). So when the hounds barked “treed”, we expected to see FP-138. Instead, looking down at us was an un-collared female panther. That day, she became FP-162. We estimated her at 3 years of age, and noted that she had not yet suckled young. She was in good health and weighed 73 lbs.


 For a week starting May 7, 2008 FP-162 was located in a 100- square-meter hammock in Windmill Prairie.

FP-162 Den site May 2008.

Since the gestation period for panthers is approximately 3 months, we set up the “biologist-in-a-box” to monitor her movements. On May 23, 2008 FP-162 was 3 kilometers from her den, so we went in to mark the kittens.

To our sadness, we found two dead and partially eaten kittens, a male and a female. Two collared male panthers, FP-133 and FP-164, had recently been in the vicinity but not documented at the den. Perhaps when we retrieve the data from their GPS collars, we’ll know if one was the rogue.
Loss of an entire litter at a den is not an uncommon occurrence, but it is difficult to determine the cause. FP-162 will likely breed and den again in the near future, and hopefully will be successful this time. The sire, however, will not be FP-138, since he was found dead in BCNP on May 12, 2008


FP-162: A More Cautious Mom the Second Time Around

By Deb Jansen, Wildlife Biologist, Big Cypress National Preserve


In February of 2008, well-trained cat hounds were intent on the trail of male FP-138, whose collar was scheduled to be changed. Instead they treed his uncollared, three-year-old lady friend who became FP-162. In spite of the possibility that the courtship was temporarily interrupted, FP-162 did give birth to her first litter of kittens three months later (the average gestation period). FP-162’s choice of her first den site was not the best. It was a small hammock surrounded by open prairie. Most dens we find are located in dense saw palmetto, where dead and dry fronds crackle a warning to the female whenever something approaches. Upon entering this den to mark the kittens, we found only their remains, probably the handiwork of one of the two collared male panthers recently located in the area.


FP-162 did get a second chance at motherhood.

FP-162

When we changed her collar on February 11, 2009, DVM Jenny Powers palpated a small head and estimated FP-162 to be in her second trimester. FP-162 was healthy and weighed 75 lbs.

Jenny Powers, DVM with FP-162

As expected, she settled into a den site on April 13, 2009. We verified her location there for the next twelve days and were preparing to search for the kittens once FP-162 left to hunt. Routine enough, so we thought.

But then FP-162’s behavior became erratic. On a few occasions, she would leave the den in late morning: somewhat unusual given the heat and less than ideal time to hunt deer. On one flight, Annette Johnson, wildlife technician, saw collared male FP-169 within a mile of the den and found FP-162 one-half mile away. Then we found the den “beds” empty at the site. No kittens and no evidence of predation. We were now in fear of an outcome similar to that of her previous den.


FP-162 relocated to a pine-palmetto-hardwood thicket over a mile away. There we saw vultures in the trees and on the ground during a brief check from the helicopter. She had lost the kittens, moved off, and had killed something to nourish herself after the two-week den attendance, we hypothesized. But she stayed in that location for six days and we knew that panthers don’t feed on a kill that long in May’s heat. So, with new hope that she had indeed moved her kittens, we found the den and discovered a squirmy, 4 1⁄2 pound, 3 1⁄2 -week-old female kitten (K280) on May 7, 2009!

K-280

This is the first time we documented a female panther moving two-week-old kittens over a mile. She may have done this in response to the presence of the male panther, having learned from the fate of her first den.

Cameras left at the den after the female kitten was handled revealed that Mom came back at 12:38 in the morning, sniffed around for a few minutes, then picked up K-280 and left. Although no other kitten appeared in the photos, it is possible that FP-162 had moved more than one kitten over those few unsettling weeks. We hope to track behind her before the rains flood Big Cypress to see if more than one set of kitten steps are pressed in the mud.

FP-162 Moving K-280 to a Safer Location.


 FP-162 den again in March of 2010.  On March 23, 2010 we marked three kittens that were two week old.  One son, K-294 weighed 3 lbs 6 oz. Daughters, K-294 weighed 3  lbs 3 oz. and K-295 weighed 2 lbs 13 oz.

K-294, K-295, and K-296 at their den.

Time-lapse video of FP-162’s return to the den.

FP162 Loses Den to Jarhead Fire

By Deborah Jansen, Big Cypress National Preserve (BCNP)

Fire Engulfs the Den: 

On April 15, 2011 BCNP biologists marked four kittens, K-322-325, at the den of FP-162, unaware of the tragedy that was to follow. Eleven days later, a thunderstorm crossed the preserve north of the den and ignited what became the Jarhead Fire. This fire expanded rapidly under drought conditions and strong winds, necessitating a national fire incident team to be called in to control it. The team was shown the location of the den and control strategies were discussed. Despite efforts to protect the den, the wild fire swept over it and killed the four kittens on May 2, 2011. The den recorder indicated that FP-162 remained with her kittens until Jarhead engulfed the area. Five-week-old kittens are not able to flee a fire. FP-162 did thankfully survive, uninjured.

The Panther Mother: 


Tasked with raising her young alone, a female panther bears a heavy burden for the population. She carries the fetuses for three months. Then, after giving birth, she nurses, grooms, and protects her kittens at the den for six to eight weeks. She balances this with her need to secure nourishment for milk production, so she leaves the den to stalk and kill an animal (usually a deer) equal to her size. A female will spend the next twelve to eighteen months teaching her inexperienced youngsters about their environment, about dangers, about getting food. The story of female Florida panther 162 is an example of the struggle, and the perils involved in raising and protecting the young.

FP-162’s Dens: 

We first began studying a then three-year-old FP-162 after collaring her in February 2008 when the hounds chanced upon her in the company FP-138, the male they were trailing. She denned three months later, but when we entered the den to mark the kittens, we found two dead and partially eaten kittens, K-268 and K-269. One of the two collared male panthers nearby may have found the den and killed the kittens.


FP-162 next denned in May of 2009, where her one kitten was marked K-280. She denned again ten months later in March of 2010, with three kittens K294-296. Counting her April 2011 den, we believe all ten of her marked kittens from her last four dens have perished. Kittens are not collared so our assessment of kitten mortality is based on the female’s initiation of dens less than a year apart. The loss of so many kittens may seem unusual, but a recent analysis of panther kitten survival (Hostetler et al: http://www.wec.ufl.edu/faculty/olim/Hostetler et al 2010 FP kitten survival BiolConservation.pdf) published in 2010 found that overall only one in three panther kittens survive to a year of age. In addition, kitten survival has decreased with the increasing panther population. A crowded habitat amplifies the chances that an adult male panther will find and kill kittens.


Searching for her Kittens: 

After the fire, FP-162 was nearby when Big Cypress biologists removed the kitten remains the next day. They continued to monitor her return trips to the den both by trail cameras and the den box. She returned to the den almost every day for the next twenty-three days, searching for her kittens. In past situations in which a kitten has been killed on a road, panther biologists have learned that placing the body off the road for the mother to find may help break the maternal bond. In this case, access into the active fire perimeter was restricted and there was no cover to protect the kittens from scavengers.

Epilogue – Remembering K-322: 

Although seeing live wild panther kittens is always an extraordinary experience, sometimes events make certain individuals unique and remembered. K-322 touched many people in her short life.

Male panther kittens typically outweigh females, even when only two to three-weeks-old. Surprisingly K-322 weighed more than her three brothers when we found them at FP-162’s den on April 15, 2011. Their mom returned early the next morning and, one by one, carried each male kitten in her mouth across the prairie to a new dense palmetto thicket. She didn’t return, however, for K-322.

For five days this female kitten waited for her mother, but instead, the BCNP team appeared on the scene to retrieve the cameras and heard her cry. She was weighed on site to confirm whether or not she was still being nursed. She had lost 23% of her body weight.

K-322


We fed her kitten milk replacer and then flew her by helicopter to the Oasis Visitor Center. Word of her arrival spread and many staff members at Big Cypress National Preserve enjoyed their first glimpse of a Florida panther kitten, excitedly forwarding photos via cell phones to their friends. After consulting with USFWS Florida Panther Coordinator Chris Belden, all agreed the priority was to get her back with her siblings. If that failed, she would be placed in captivity.

The next day, April 22, 2011 FP-162 was away from her den, so K-322, now six ounces heavier, received her second helicopter ride. After a brief search, we found one of her brothers. After a “rubdown” of soil and leaf litter to mask our scent, she was slipped in next to him. They exchanged a few startled spits, and then K-322 began intently sniffing her surroundings. We quickly left. The monitoring box indicated that mom FP-162 returned to this den between 0600 and 0700 the next morning and did not move the kittens. We had great hopes for K-322 and could not have anticipated that the Jarhead Fire would take her life. On May 3, 2011 Big Cypress staff retrieved the remains of the four panther kittens. The transponders of each could still be scanned. K-322 had been accepted by her mother as shown by the fact that once again she weighed more than her brothers.

K-322 Sniffing Around the New Den with her Brother Close Behind.


 In June 2012, FP-162  denned again and we marked 2 kittens June 26, 2012.

K-367 At 22 days old he weighed 4 lbs 9 oz

K-368 At 22 days old she weighed 4 lbs 1 oz

02-23-2014 FP-162

03-04-2014 FP-162

In August of 2014 FP-162 den again. On August 15, 2014 we marked three kittens.

K-429 12 day old son of FP-162

K-430 12 day old son of FP-162

K-431 12 day old daughter of FP-162


02-06-2015 FP-162

After multiple attempts we were able to change FP-162’s collar on February 24, 2015.


 

“On May 6, 2016 we retrieved female FP-162 from the field.  Signs indicated that she had been killed by another panther the previous night and he had just begun to feed upon her.  Mark Cunningham, FWC DVM, conducted her necropsy this past weekend and found that, based on signs in her uterus, she had recently given birth.  This ties in with our field observations which included a spot near her that looked very much like a panther den and the location and type of habitat was similar to her previous dens.  We found no kitten remains after searching the small island thoroughly, so it is very likely that she had just given birth when a male panther found her, killed her, and probably ate the kittens.


It also ties in with the fact that she had been living in this home range for 12 years and had avoided death by intraspecific aggression.  She likely stood her ground to protect her kittens.”

Deborah Jansen

Wildlife Biologist

Big Cypress National Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Ralph Arwood 2017