There most likely would be fewer than 10 Florida panthers stalking the states forests today if it wasn’t for the Texas cougar, scientists say.

The first cougars came in 1995, when officials released eight female Texas cougars in South Florida as a way to broaden the genetic diversity of what was then a dying population.

Had those cougars not been released, a recent University of Florida report finds, the state’s official animal would likely be extinct.

“We found that the Florida population would’ve declined, on average, by about 5 percent per year,” said Madan Oli, a University of Florida professor and one of the authors of the report. “And that’s essentially telling us there was a high chance that the population would’ve eventually gone extinct.”

The report said there is a 71 percent chance that only 10 of the endangered cats would be alive in the wild today if not for the genetic infusion. The breeding project, somewhat controversial at that time, has boosted panther population across much of South Florida’s undeveloped lands.

“The ultimate situation would have been their extinction had we not taken action,” said Darrell Land, a biologist and panther team leader for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The clock was ticking.”

Today, panther numbers hover around 150 of juvenile and breeding age. That’s more than five times the number of cats thought to be in the wild in 1995, when the Texas cougar genetic restoration project started. Some researchers estimated there were six or fewer panthers alive in Florida during the 1980’s. READ MORE


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