Wildlife officials found a dead Florida panther in the Belle Meade portion of the Picayune Strand State Forest today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.
Reports listed the cause of death of the 6-year-old male panther as unknown, but panther biologist Dave Onorato said there were no signs of foul play. Onorato said the panther did not have the typical signs of being in a fight with another panther.
The carcass, found about a half-mile south of Interstate 75 and some six miles east of Collier Boulevard, will undergo a necropsy to try to determine a cause of death.
Scientists estimate as many as 160 panthers, an endangered species, remain in the wild, mostly in Southwest Florida. The panther population has been growing but is running out of room.
So far this year, 21 panthers have been found dead, including one whose skeletal remains indicate it died in 2010. Of the others, seven were killed in collisions with vehicles and four died in fights with other panthers.
Four panther kittens were killed in Big Cypress National Preserve wildfires this summer. The cause of one other death is listed as unknown, and three deaths remain under investigation.