GOLDEN GATE ESTATES — A rescued Florida panther was released back to the wild Thursday in rural Collier County, but the good news was tempered by back-to-back panther deaths in Southwest Florida.
The released female panther and her brother were rescued in September 2011 near the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in northern Collier County after their mother was found dead. They were 5 months old.
Both panthers have been raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee near Jacksonville, where five other panther kittens have been raised and released in South Florida. The other rescued panther has yet to be released.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists released the female panther in the Picayune Strand State Forest because the area had room for another female between the home ranges of other females in the region.
Photos of the release show biologists unloading a crate with the panther inside from a truck, opening the crate and then the panther, fitted with a tracking collar, darting to freedom.
The same day, though, biologists collected the remains of an uncollared panther kitten, about 4 months old, on a rural road in Hendry County. It had been hit by a vehicle, the Conservation Commission reported.
A second uncollared panther, between 2 and 3 years old, was found Friday in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest in Hendry County. A cause of death hasn't been determined.
The two deaths bring to five the total number of panther deaths so far this year, including three road kills. Another was killed in a fight with another panther.
Scientists estimate that between 100 and 160 panthers remain in South Florida, where their expanding population is running out of room.
To report a dead or injured panther, call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), call #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text a message to Tip@MyFWC.com.