Monday, 5 August 2013

NHL Animal Week - Florida

Yesterday, I spent part of my evening trying to stomach Discovery's well-hyped Shark Week only to be disappointed by their opening program Megalodon on Sunday. It dawned on me that the NHL should partner with Discovery Communications to bring NHL Animal Week! There are seven teams that distinctively could be featured, and I drew back the curtains on the San Jose Sharks and the great white shark yesterday. Today, we focus on a carnivore that has seen its numbers recover in recent years as the Florida panther is featured on HBIC's NHL Animal Week!

Monday - Florida Panthers

The Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, is a subspecies of the mountain lion, North America's largest predatory cat. The mountain lion, collectively, is known by many names - cougar, puma, catamount, panther, or painter - but all represent the same species of cat. The mountain is the fourth largest cat on planet, trailing only the tiger, lion, and jaguar in that category. They range from northern Canada right down to the tip of South America through the Andes mountains. It's great range makes the mountain lion the most widely distributed animal in the Americas when not including humans. The Florida Panther, long considered extinct until the mid-1970s, had been found in a small pocket in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, and the cat has rebounded through generational breeding. While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that the Florida panther has recovered to have between 100 and 160 individuals in Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.

The young are born with spots that eventually fade into the uniform tan color of the mountain lion. The eyes are blue at birth, but eventually take on a yellow hue as the cat matures. While not a small cat in terms of being able to purr, the mountain lion also cannot roar like lions and tigers as their physiology is closer to smaller cats than great cats. Their larynx produces a shrill scream instead of a roar, lending to many folklore stories and myths about "mountain screamers".

Like the great white shark, the mountain lion uses an ambush attack to take down prey. Using its size and weight, the mountain lion will pounce from behind after silently stalking its prey to take it to the ground where it will normally administer the lethal bite on the neck. If the animal is larger or appears to be able to inflict damage on the mountain lion, it will retreat until the animal has succumbed to its injuries. In Florida, the diet of the Florida panther includes rodents, hares, and waterfowl, but it will attack wild boars, deer, and storks if given the chance. Attacks usually happen before dawn when visibility is at its lowest.

The Florida panther has always been in conflict with man as man's encroachment into their territory has pushed the cat to near extinction. Combining that factor with automobile accidents and poaching to either protect livestock or for their furs have made man the top hunter of the Florida panther. In nature, the apex predator position is occupied by the panther and by the alligator, and the two don't get along very well. Alligator attacks, while rare, do happen and most often occur on panther young as they drink. Further west, mountain lions and wolves routinely clash as the top predators in the wild, and, excuse the adage, but these two fight like cats and dogs. While the wolves roam in packs, the mountain lion is a solitary creature, so mountain lions normally retreat when wolves make their presence felt.

Because there haven't been enough animals to track and monitor in the wild, the Florida panther's endangered species listing has been left at "not evaluated". However, it has been protected from hunting since 1958 in Florida, and in 1967 it was listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The state of Florida also added it to the state's endangered species list, adding further protection to the already-threatened cat. After much fighting amongst environmental and animal groups, there has been a Florida Panther Recovery Plan put in place to further research these animals and to have it recover in the Florida region.

There's a quick synopsis of the Florida panther for today's look at the animal used in the Florida Panthers logo. Tune in tomorrow when NHL ANIMAL WEEK continues! I'll be featuring bears as we break down the Boston Bruins!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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