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Cougar Found In Man’s Home, Police Say

November 11, 2011 by staff 

Cougar Found In Man’s Home, Police Say, A cougar found frozen in a Loxahatchee man’s garage last month was not an endangered Florida panther, and the state wildlife officer who reported it as a panther made a mistake, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“I can tell you right now from looking at the photo that it’s a western cougar,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, who oversees the agency’s captive wildlife and investigations section.
The western cougar is a non-native subspecies of the puma that can be legally owned as a pet in Florida with proper permits. The Florida panther is endangered and strictly regulated by the federal government.

However, it’s hard to tell them apart without DNA tests or skull measurements, Florida panther experts said.

The state wildlife agency has defended its handling of the Oct. 16 incident, saying it’s not a crime to preserve a pet panther after it dies if it was legally obtained, Brown said.

Local police called wildlife officers to the 30-acre property after hearing allegations that the cat’s owner shot it. When they arrived, it was buried under a pile of mangoes in a chest freezer.

Gene Stimmler, 73, denied shooting his pet panther. He previously had permits for two pet cougars, and had already notified wildlife officers that they died of natural causes.

The FWC is not investigating how the cougar died because it has no reason to believe it was abused or neglected, Brown said.

The responding officer took a photo of the cougar and left.

Chris Belden, a lead Florida panther expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he can’t tell from the photo if the cat is a western cougar or its endangered cousin.

“It would take a much more in-depthanlysis,” wrote Brown, who has studied Florida panthers for decades. “The best way to determine subspecific identity, obviously, would be through DNAanlysis.”

Stimmler said Tuesday he has owned about nine panthers over the years. He’s also owned lemurs, monkeys and dozens of exotic birds at home, where he also runs a landscaping company.

A disgruntled former employee who lived in a trailer on his property called authorities and showed them the panther in the freezer.

Florida has 260 personal and commercial facilities licensed to keep Class I wildlife, which are dangerous animals, such as cougars and other big cats, the FWC said. These facilities are inspected at least twice a year.

Before the October incident, Stimmler’s property was last inspected in May 2010. The wildlife inspector gave him a warning, reporting that his pet panther looked unnaturally thin and its water was dirty with mosquito larvae.

Floridians must meet strict requirements to get one of these permits, including proof of insurance, reference letters and training. A 2009 state law toughened the requirements, and state wildlife officials were working with Stimmler so he could meet the new conditions.

During that time, he said, his panthers died, so his permits were canceled, the FWC said.

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