Verity Mathis, mammal collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, discusses the importance of mammal collections and the significance of the endangered Florida panther specimens within the collection.
The Florida Museum is the repository for a large collection of Florida panther specimens, which can help researchers understand this species over the course of time, and across the state. Most of the museum’s specimens arrived here due to accidental deaths in the wild or as roadkill.
Interview and videos produced by Cheyenne Hoover for Explore Research at the University of Florida.
So as the mammal Collections Manager my job is to oversee the day-to-day operations in the mammal collections and that can involve preparing specimens for deposition into the collection, cataloging, identification, doing loans the researchers, doing education and outreach, and supervising volunteers. We serve as a very important repository for those specimens for researchers and for government officials to be able to monitor those populations across time.
The Florida Museum has a large collection of Florida panthers and manatees and other endangered species from the state. One of the panthers that we have in the collection was actually very instrumental in broadening protections for the Florida panther.
It was shot by some hunters in the 1980s and there was a lot of controversy and discussion as to whether or not they – that was a Florida panther or that was another Panther that was outside of protection. Through the examination of the skeleton and discussions with biologists they ultimately ended up using that specimen as a representation to expand the protections and create a look-like law, so any Panther that even looked like it could be a Florida panther was protected from hunting, and that would help protect true Florida Panthers in the future.
There’s a misconception that most of our endangered species were purposely taken from the wild and brought to the museum and the reality is most of our endangered species came to us either through death by natural causes, they were road killed, or they were accidental deaths in the wild. The Florida panther has been listed as an endangered subspecies of the Eastern Panther, eastern cougar, since 1967 and it’s been protected from hunting since the late 1950s. That was done in recognition of the fact that in the 1970s there were only estimated to be about 20 individuals in the wild and now through the protection efforts of state and federal officials they have estimates of between 160 to 200 individuals in the wild now.
Learn more about Mammals Collection and the Reed Lab at the Florida Museum.