Toxic algae may be making Florida’s wild felines “mental”

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has documented several wild felines showing signs of apparent neurological issues.

Multiple panthers, eight to be exact, and one bobcat, have been seen exhibiting an inability to walk, stumbling, struggling to keep balance, and in some cases losing complete temporary mobility in rear quarters. Trail camera footage dating back to May of 2018 has made the rounds on media sources.

The issues were originally (and expectedly) believed to be caused by rodenticide exposure. Rodenticide usage has been recently scrutinized as the unsubstantiated “catch-all” diagnosis for a myriad of various wildlife-related issues across the country. In most cases, anecdotally.

But some experts have not ruled out the potential for a more “natural” explanation.

Cyanobacteria, commonly known as “Blue-green Algae” has been a regular topic this summer in many parts of the United States.

The bacteria is found in most of Florida's aquatic environments, with many cyanobacteria species capable of producing harmful toxins known as cyanotoxins. The bacteria can cause noticeable blooms, taste and odor problems in public water supplies, and prove fatal for both domestic and wild animals that either drink or are otherwise exposed to contaminated water.

Larry Brand, a marine and ecology professor at the University of Miami, can’t rule out bacteria exposure, confiding in media sources that the area where the sick cats were recorded (the southwest coast) did in fact have blooms of blue-green algae.

"I've got to think it is possible they were drinking water from the Caloosahatchee (River) and other areas." Brand said.

Just as the blue-green algae bacteria can’t be ruled out, it can’t yet be confirmed as the root cause either. Experts admit that other causes, such as mercury poisoning, distemper, cerebellar hypoplasia, degenerative myelopathy or something else biological could be to blame.

Fermented apples perhaps? We’ve all seen the video clips of the drunk squirrels and skunks in fermented fruit. The jury is clearly still out on this one.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission states “Different cyanobacteria species can produce more than one type of toxin. As with other harmful algal blooms (HABs), cyanobacteria and their toxins can disrupt and damage sensitive ecosystems, and threaten public and natural resources health and the environment.  The public may be at risk if they ingest untreated drinking water from affected areas, or possibly from recreational exposure to toxins.”

Currently, less than 200 Florida panthers still live in the wild. The large cats are currently listed on the United States' endangered list.

Bobcats on the other hand, are found in great abundance throughout most of the state.

Florida Fish & Wildlife spokespeople have asserted that the Commission is testing for various potential toxins, environmental factors and possible nutritional deficiencies.