Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida panther released back into the wild

IN THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES — An endangered Florida panther rescued as a kitten and raised in captivity has made a rare run back into the wild.

The sandy-colored, 120-pound panther cautiously poked its head out of the crate that wildlife officials drove Wednesday from northeast Florida to Palm Beach County, then it trotted out onto a gravel road in the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area.

It built up speed with longer and longer strides, sprinting several hundred yards before veering off into the brush and disappearing.

"To see him run straight like that for such a distance and running free off into the woods makes everything worthwhile," said Dave Onorato, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission scientist who opened the panther's crate.

The 2-year-old male panther and his sister were rescued by wildlife officials in September 2011 in Collier County after their mother was found dead. They have been raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee since they were 5 months old.

Only around 160 Florida panthers remain, and it's rare for the big cats to be cared for in captivity and then released. Only about 15 kittens or injured adult panthers have been treated at the center and released since it began working with the cats in 1986.

"Having him in the wild with the potential to contribute to reproductive output really is what we need for panther recovery," Onorato said.

The rescued siblings were raised in a series of increasingly larger pens fenced into the forest surrounding the center in northeast Florida. Human interaction was extremely limited, leaving the panthers to hone their instincts hunting rabbits, armadillos and deer released into their pens. Once they got big enough to take down larger animals, they were deemed ready to try their luck in the wild.

The female panther was released in Collier County in February. Like her brother, she's wearing a collar that allows researchers to track her movements.

The measure of success for her release will be whether she produces a litter of kittens, Onorato said.

The bar is lower for the male panther: surviving at least a year in a competitive landscape. Young males can be attacked and killed by larger, older panthers securing their territory. The home range of a male panther is about 200 square miles, an area the size of Disney World.

Instead of releasing the male into the panther's core population in southwest Florida, researchers took him to Palm Beach County to the eastern edge of known panther breeding grounds.

"By putting him in areas where we suspect there's low numbers of male panthers, we're trying to give him a little bit of a head start," Onorato said.

Panthers once roamed the entire southeastern U.S., but development has limited their habitat mostly to southwest Florida.

Vehicle strikes are blamed for most of the more than two dozen panther deaths reported last year. Seven panther deaths have been recorded so far this year, including five caused by vehicles.

Florida panther released back into the wild 04/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 12:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut

    Blogs

    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview

    Hurricanes

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander

    Bucs

    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.

    Figures.

    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest

    Health

    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]