Buresh Blog: Only the 3rd freeze of the season... Warm decade... Florida panthers at White Oak

Injured Right Whale calf off our coast

Buresh Blog: Only the 3rd freeze of the season... Warm decade... Florida panthers at White Oak

Jacksonville, Fl. — After a very warm start to the year/January, a bit of winter reality the past few days (week of Jan. 20th). 3 days in a row from the 20th - 22nd marked the coldest air of the season so far. The previous 2 1/2 weeks were so warm, however, that temps. are still averaging a solid 8 degrees above avg. For the most part temps. don’t look to stray too far from avg. - either above or below - into next week. But there are signs of a more active weather pattern evolving the last few days of Jan. into early Feb. which could/should result in some wetter days.

Only 5 winters since 1971 in Jacksonville have had fewer than 3 freezes through Jan. 22. The average for an entire winter at JIA is 18 freezes. We’ll fall woefully short again this winter.

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The number of freeze warnings issued by our Jax N.W.S. has been in steady decline over the last 5 years (includes NE Fl./SE Ga.):

This mild winter is coming off the warmest decade on record - globally - according to NOAA & NASA. Note the steady temp. increase since 1980 with 5 of the warmest years on record occurring within approximately the last 5 years with 2019 the 2nd warmest on record.

How 'bout a little “Wild Kingdom” - we’ll talk animals now. :)

First.... from close to home - White Oak in Nassau Co. (great place to visit by the way):

YULEE, FLA. (Jan. 16, 2020) — White Oak Conservation has adopted two endangered Florida panther kittens after a mysterious neurological disorder left their mother unable to care for them.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) observed the radio-collared mother on trail camera footage in July as she struggled to walk, hobbled by rear leg weakness.

In early July, state wildlife officials took in her two male kittens, then estimated to be two weeks old, because they would not have survived on their own, and brought them to Animal Specialty Hospital for care. Following almost two months of nursing care, the kittens were then transferred to ZooTampa at Lowry Park for evaluation and care.

The kittens, named Cypress and Pepper, are expected to be transferred to White Oak from ZooTampa next week. (Photos credit: Rachel Ross, ZooTampa.)

Both kittens have undergone several health screenings and been given the all-clear. They are about seven months old and will continue to be monitored for signs of the disorder.

“These young kittens will live out their lives at White Oak in peace and safety,” said Mark Walter, White Oak’s owner, who leads Walter Conservation with his wife, Kimbra. “These recent health challenges with the panthers in South Florida are poignant reminders that White Oak and our partners must be vigilant and quick to respond if we are to save animals from emerging threats.”

Other panthers and bobcats have demonstrated similar rear leg weakness, and FWC is monitoring the issue and exploring possible causes, such as exposure to toxins, infectious disease or a nutritional deficiency. The mother in this case had to be captured and euthanized after her health deteriorated.

There are only about 200 left in the wild today; most are isolated in southern and central Florida. Indiscriminate killing in past centuries and, more recently, habitat loss and collisions with cars have resulted in panthers being one of Florida’s most endangered species.

Since 1986, White Oak has partnered with Florida wildlife officials to rehabilitate and release 19 sick or injured Florida panthers, many of which were struck by cars, under the direction of senior veterinarian Scott Citino. This includes the first panther family rehabilitated and released into the wild together in 2018.

The species was headed toward extinction until the Endangered Species Preservation Act. The Florida panther was among the first to gain protection under the landmark 1966 federal law.

But more is needed as Florida continues to lose hundreds of thousands of acres of rural land to provide for new homes and new residents. More concerning are the new roads being built across panther home ranges, often after the areas are sold to housing developers.

“We need more private and public lands preserved, and we need dedicated wildlife crossings that enable the panther population to move, expand and thrive,” Walter said. “Otherwise, our generation will be responsible for the extinction of the Florida panther.”

Walter Conservation works to save endangered species and preserve large, wild spaces across the globe. Habitat preservation is just as, if not more, critical to species survival; sufficient loss is proven to lead to extinction. This is why the Walters preserve large areas of open lands from North America to Africa, protecting them from further development and managing them in ways that speed species recovery.

Facts about Florida panthers:

  • Florida panthers are at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators. They eat only meat.
  • The biggest cause of mortality is collision with vehicles.
  • Panthers are elusive and solitary, coming together only for mating.
  • The females raise their kittens on their own.
  • Gestation is 90-95 days.
  • Kittens are weaned at six months.
  • They may stay with their mother for up to 20 months; siblings may stay together for a few months thereafter.
  • Male home ranges cover up to 200 square miles.
  • Males are intolerant of other males who enter their home ranges.
  • As once-wild home ranges get carved up for development, panthers are brought into greater contact with each other and with humans, putting them at greater risk. This is why habitat preservation is so critical to species survival.
(Rachel Ross/Zoo Tampa)
(Rachel Ross/Zoo Tampa)

Meanwhile.... a young injured highly endangered Right Whale calf was discovered in mid January off the coast of Fernandina Beach. The very serious injuries seemed consistent with a vessel strike of some sort. The remarkable effort to try to save the calf are documented * here * - by NOAA Fisheries.

(Fl. Fish & Wildlife Commission)
(Fl. Fish & Wildlife Commission)
(Fl. Fish & Wildlife Commission)