There may be hope for the Florida Panther. After coming within two dozen cats of extinction, their numbers are increasing. How? Find out why hybrids were the answer, and see some very cute baby panther pictures along the way.
One of the reasons a severely depleted species often does not recover is the genetic problems due to inbreeding. Inbreeding itself does not cause mutation or disease. If it affects a huge portion of the population, it can make certain genetic weaknesses dangerously prevalent. Add this to an already embattled species, and it can spell extinction. Florida panthers came were down to 20-25 individuals, and they had been inbreeding long enough that they were plagued by parasites, weakened by heart defects, and reproductively hampered by low sperm counts. (How researchers got a panther's sperm is a question for another time.)
The situation was dire, and so conservationists decided that they were going to bring in a ringer or two. Or eight. Eight female Texas panthers were brought into Florida, ready to do their part. They performed admirably. According to a release about the program:
Now, however, after mixing those panthers' genes with the genes of the eight imported female panthers from Texas, Johnson [Warren Johnson, the leader of the conservation team] and his colleagues say that the new population of hybrid panthers in Florida has tripled in size. They also suggest that the panthers' overall fitness and survival rates have greatly improved since the wild cats mixed their genes with the Texas population.
Well done, ladies. Take a look at their handiwork below.
Update: I have been told that anyone wishing to help out can go to Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge to learn more.
Via Science Express.