Authorities investigating suspicious panther death; three others hit by vehicles

— Authorities are investigating the death of a Florida panther that had been kept secret until Monday.

The death of uncollared Florida panther No. 128, UCFP128 for short, was listed in an e-mail from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther team leader Darrell Land along with three panthers struck and killed by vehicles in the past two weeks.

Land’s e-mail includes no details about the panther death under investigation except to list it between two other panther deaths Oct. 7 and Oct. 19.

On Oct. 21, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from the Conservation Commission and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, searched a house at 2880 20th Avenue S.E. in Golden Gate Estates in connection with a wildlife violation investigation, agents said.

They refused again Monday to say whether the search was panther-related.

“I can’t confirm what we’re looking at out there,” Conservation Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam.

“It’s a large investigation, and it’s going to take some time.”

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman was similarly tight-lipped Monday.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that UCFP128 is/was in any way related to the search of a home on Oct. 21 in Golden Gate Estates,” agency spokesman Ken Warren wrote in an e-mail.

Agents arrived at the house, which property records list as being owned by Terry L. Sirosky, at about 7:30 a.m. and spent the day there.

The search extended to a dark blue Chevrolet Silverado with Wakulla County license plates in the middle of 18th Avenue S.E., one block away.

The truck later was driven to the house, where it was still parked the next morning.

Earlier in the day, K-9 units were brought in to aid in the search, which extended to the home’s wooded back yard.

Land, the Conservation Commission biologist, said the agency delayed an announcement of the three panthers killed by vehicles because of uncertainty about how to number the deaths given that the death of No. 128 had not been made public.

The Conservation Commission has worked out a system to avoid delaying announcements of panther deaths in the future, Land said.

In the first of those three deaths, a 3- to 4-month-old male kitten, weighing 21 pounds, was killed along Immokalee Road, about two miles east of Immokalee, on Oct. 19.

Two days later, a 3- to 4-year-old female panther, thought to be the kitten’s mother, was killed near the same spot, according to Land’s e-mail Monday.

Then, on Sunday, a 3- to 4-month-old female kitten weighing 17 pounds was struck and killed by a vehicle at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Hendry County.

In light of the previous two deaths east of Immokalee, the kitten was moved away from the road, and Conservation Commission officers stayed on the scene for several hours after dark to slow down traffic in the area, Land reported.

The mother panther sat next to the dead kitten for about 30 minutes before moving away, officers said.

The kitten was removed from the scene Monday morning, Land said.

Conservation Commission officers were planning to be in the area again overnight Monday to try to avert a repeat of the deaths east of Immokalee.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Land said.

So far this year, 12 panthers have been struck and killed by vehicles among a total of 18 deaths.

They include three panthers killed by other panthers, a panther found shot in April in Hendry County and two other panther deaths in which the cause is listed as unknown.

A $15,000 reward has been issued for information related to the shooting of the panther in Hendry County.

Biologists have been unable to determine a cause of death for a 2-year-old male panther found dead in an orange grove east of Ave Maria in September.

The same is true for a 3- to 4-year-old female panther found dead in the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve in October.

Scientists estimate there are 120 panthers left in the wild.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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