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Florida Panther Gives Birth to Kitten

Cause for celebration due to the animal's skinny population

“The fact that this panther has given birth is positive news for the recovery of this endangered species and a testament to the hard work of all involved in its rescue and rehabilitation," said Dave Onorato, FWC panther biologist. (Courtesy FWC) “The fact that this panther has given birth is positive news for the recovery of this endangered species and a testament to the hard work of all involved in its rescue and rehabilitation," said Dave Onorato, FWC panther biologist. (Courtesy FWC)

 

Only 100 to 160 adult and sub-adult panthers exist in south Florida. Biologists jubilantly added one more number to the mix last week, when a female Florida panther, rescued as an orphaned kitten and raised in captivity, gave birth just a few months after her release back into the wild.

Biologists found the approximately 1-month-old female kitten last week in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in southwest Florida, near where they released the young adult panther in January.

"We were very excited to find this panther's kitten," said Dave Onorato, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) panther biologist. "The fact that this panther has given birth is positive news for the recovery of this endangered species and a testament to the hard work of all involved in its rescue and rehabilitation."

Biologists estimate the female panther became pregnant about three weeks after her release, when she was only 21 months old -- an age that is somewhat younger than the typical age of first conception for female panthers.

While biologists are encouraged the female became a contributor to the population so quickly, it was not completely unexpected, given that her home range is within prime panther habitat.

"Kitten survival rates are pretty low, but this kitten looked healthy and feisty," Onorato said. "The kitten has a chance of one day contributing to the population as well.

"The FWC rescued the now young adult panther and its brother as 5-month-old kittens in September 2011 after their mother was found dead. They were then raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee until they were ready for release. The FWC released the male panther in April at the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in south Florida.

"The success story of this once orphaned panther giving birth in the wild following its rescue and rehabilitation would not be possible without license plate funds," said Carol Knox, FWC's Imperiled Species Section Leader. Knox was referring to the protect the panther license plate. Fees from it are the primary funding source for the FWC's research and management of Florida panthers.

For biologists, every number counts. And this kitten is another reason for celebration as they continue to monitor the Florida Panther's existence in south Florida.

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