Florida wildlife news often is dominated by loss: record numbers of manatee deaths, an endangered species on the brink of extinction, invasives over-taking entire ecosystems and so on. Wednesday evening's release of an endangered Florida panther into the wild was a welcome respite.
The young male panther was rescued as a five-month-old kitten in September 2011 in Collier County after its mother was found dead. The cat's sister and litter-mate was released in January in Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County. Both animals were raised in captivity and later released in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released the panther Wednesday at Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County, an area not typically known as a hotbed of Florida panther activity.
Biologists chose the location with the hopes that the young male won't encroach on an established older male's territory. Such run-ins are potentially fatal, with "intraspecific aggression" ranking among the chief causes of panther death in the wild.
The male panther, like all captured and released Florida panthers, was outfitted with a radio collar to track its location and movements. So far, his sister has fared well. Scientists have tracked her through post-release monitoring and "have observed her adapting well and behaving as typical wild female panthers do," according to the FWC.
Scientists estimate there are 100 to 160 adult panthers remaining in the wild. FWC, which tracks the panther population, reports that seven panthers have died so far this year. Of those, five were killed by vehicle strikes and two were the result of panther-on-panther fighting. Meanwhile, there have been seven panther kittens born this year.
FWC is encouraging Florida residents to contribute to Florida panther conservation efforts with the purchase of the panther license plate, as fees from the sales fund FWC research and management of the animals. Learn more about other conservation efforts via the Florida Panther Protection Program. Report a sick, injured, or dead panther by calling 888-404-FWCC.
Now -- for the fun stuff: Find more photos of the panther's release on the MYFWCmedia Flickr page and watch an Associated Press video of the Florida panther's release below.