DEADLY CROSSROADS: STATE OF THE FLORIDA PANTHER
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Wildlife officers are investigating the deaths of two more endangered Florida panthers, bringing the total to three since Feb. 23.
The first dead panther was found in Golden Gate Estates, and dead panthers also were found March 17 and March 25, according to a list, released Monday, of panther deaths in 2011.
The panther found March 25 was found on the side of State Road 29 south of Immokalee and could turn out to be a road kill but is still being treated as suspicious, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam said Monday.
“We just want to make absolutely sure,” Horadam said.
Neither the Conservation Commission nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have released any more details about any of the three deaths.
Last week, the two agencies and the Humane Society of the United States put up a $5,000 reward for information in the Feb. 23 case.
The state’s Wildlife Alert Hotline got fewer than a half-dozen calls, and none of them produced any significant leads, Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said.
The two new panther deaths under investigation were on a list that accompanied a standard report about the Conservation Commission finding a panther Friday that was hit and killed by a vehicle on a rural stretch of U.S. 41 East.
The 12-year-old female panther was found about two miles west of Port of the Islands.
Biologists first came across the panther as a kitten in 1999, when they marked the panther in its den in Picayune Strand State Forest. The panther was eventually equipped with a tracking collar and was monitored until July 2006.
Panther death investigations have become more common in recent years.
In 2009, authorities investigated the death of a panther found 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 group of people.
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.
So far this year, biologists have counted 11 panther deaths, including the three under investigation.
Five other panthers have been killed in collisions with vehicles, two have died in fights with other panthers and one panther death’s cause is listed as unknown.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats