Florida panthers. Get an inside look at panthers in the historic Everglades. Chad Gillis/news-press.com
Brad Rosendorf was driving a remote dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve when he saw a panther traveling with spotted kittens.
He visited the preserve in July for three nights and photographed alligators, water moccasins and a red-shouldered hawk. On the third day, he encountered the panther family.
“This was a very special experience in my life!” he wrote in a Facebook message. "This was my first time seeing a panther in the wild.”
"The mother panther picked up the kitten and moved off the dirt road. Two additional baby kittens followed behind her," he wrote.
The Coral Springs man shared a photo of the panthers July 27 on Facebook, and it continues to be shared.
The photo was shared on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s official Twitter account Tuesday, which happened to be International Cat Day.
Since then, the photo has been shared more than 270 times on Twitter and has more than 350 shares on Facebook. Rosendorf, 29, doesn’t mind if the photo reaches more people.
He wrote in a Facebook message that he hopes his photo will help raise awareness about Big Cypress National Preserve and the possibility of oil drilling there.
"The future of panthers in the preserve is in peril,” Rosendorf wrote.
Texas-based Burnett Oil Co. surveyed the preserve for oil this year, and it is unknown whether surveyors found any oil.
Rosendorf has photographed Florida's wilderness for nearly 13 years. He has made over 100 trips to Big Cypress.
The Florida panther, which was listed as an endangered species in 1967, is among a dozen animals whose listing status is being reviewed this year.
Scientists estimate that as many as 230 panthers live in the wild, mostly in Southwest Florida, though some suggest there could be more.
Eighteen panthers have been found dead this year, mostly after being hit by vehicles, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nine have been found dead in Collier. One was found in Lee.
Last year, 42 deaths were reported,including 21 in Collier and 11 in Lee.