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GOLDEN GATE ESTATES — A dead Florida panther and a wounded bald eagle are the focus of two wildlife investigations in Southwest Florida.
Wildlife officials said Thursday that they suspect foul play in the death of a panther, an endangered species, found Feb. 23 in Golden Gate Estates. The bald eagle, which was recently removed from the endangered species list after a decades-long recovery but is still protected under federal law, was found shot in Lehigh Acres in early March.
Rewards are being offered for information that helps solve either case.
Authorities have not released information on the Feb. 23 panther death, including how it died and where it was found.
State and federal wildlife officers have mounted three panther death investigations since 2009.
Authorities investigated the death of a panther found in 2009 between Oct. 7 and Oct. 19, but there has been no arrest in that case.
On Oct. 21, 2009, authorities searched a house at 2880 20th Avenue S.E. in Golden Gate Estates in connection with a wildlife violation investigation but would not say whether the investigation was panther-related.
A $15,000 reward was issued for information related to the shooting of a panther found in April 2009 in Hendry County.
Killing a panther carries a federal penalty of up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine per individual or $200,000 fine per organization.
Florida law makes it a third degree felony to kill or wound an endangered species. The maximum penalty is five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Scientists say there are between 100 and 160 adult panthers left in South Florida, where the wide-ranging cats are running out of room to roam.
Golden Gate Estates has been a hot spot for panther attacks on unsecured livestock in recent years.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Humane Society of the United States are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or criminal or civil penalty in the case.
In the eagle case, neighbors first noticed the bird on the ground March 3 but did not realize it had been shot. The eagle stayed on the ground until March 7, when a concerned citizen realized the bird was injured and took it to a wildlife rehabilitation clinic on Sanibel Island.
X-rays show birdshot in the eagle’s broken wing and body. Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse said he does not know whether the eagle will recover well enough to be released back into the wild.
Investigator Greg Stanley said the bird was shot earlier that week, probably not far from where it was rescued because its injuries would not have allowed it to travel.
Intentionally harming a bald eagle is a misdemeanor, punishable under federal law by a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to one year in prison.
The Wildlife Alert Reward Association, a nonprofit group funded by donations and court-ordered contributions from convicted wildlife violators is offering a $1,000 reward in the eagle case. The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust have added $2,500.
Anyone with information about either case can call the Conservation Commission’s toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or go to myfwc.com/wildlifealert. Reporters can remain anonymous.