Genetic testing by the National Cancer Institute, Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, has indicated the panther shot by a hunter in Troup County last year came from the resident southern Florida panther population.
On Sunday, November 16, a sportsman observed a mature panther or cougar while he was hunting deer in the woods of Troup County. The hunter shot the cat from his stand, then reported the incident to DNR. He has not been charged in the case.
The animal was taken to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens for examination. A necropsy revealed the animal to be in excellent nutritional condition. No evidence of microchips or other common identification methods were found on the animal.
Because Florida panthers had not been documented in Georgia in years, it was initially thought that this animal might have escaped or have been intentionally released from captivity. With the genetic confirmation that the animal is a Florida panther, it is possible that this animal traveled from south Florida to Georgia.
"We have had evidence (road kill) of Florida panthers as far north as the Florida panhandle," said Tim Breault, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Young males, in an attempt to develop their own territory, will often wander far from their home range. We think this may have been the case in this situation."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Office of Law Enforcement is investigating this incident since the Florida panther is a federally protected endangered species.
"Finding a Florida panther that far from southwest Florida is out of the ordinary, but male panthers, particularly younger ones, can travel great distances," said Paul Souza, field supervisor of the South Florida Ecological Services Office. "While it’s unusual for panthers to be seen that far north, it is not impossible for a young male to travel so far."
The Florida panther is the last subspecies of Puma (also known as mountain lion, cougar, puma, or catamount) still surviving in the eastern United States. Historically occurring throughout the southeastern United States, the estimated 100 to 120 panthers are found in south Florida, in less than 5 percent of their historic range.