Two orphaned panther kittens at the time of their rescue in Sept. 2011 in Collier County.
(Photo courtesy of Erin Myers, USFWS)
YULEE, Fla. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is tracking two juvenile panthers after a tree knocked over by Sandy's winds broke the enclosure housing the two cats.
Karen Parker, Public Information for FWC, said the two juvenile panthers, a male and a female, were being housed at the White Oak Conservation Center.
Parker said when winds toppled a tree near the center it broke the enclosure's fence, allowing the panthers to escape.
While the two are out of their pen, panther experts from FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are tracking them using telemetry from radio collars they are outfitted with, Parker said.
The panthers have not traveled far from their pen, and are still on White Oak property. Parker said wildlife officials are continuously monitoring their location and are working to return them to their enclosure.
Parker said FWC captured the two cats when they were five months old. They were found in September 2011 near the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in northern Collier County.
Kipp Frohlich, head of the Imperiled Species Management Section at the FWC, said, "The two kittens, born in May 2011, were trapped by our staff due to the death of their mother. They were transferred to White Oak Conservation Center to be raised and prepared for release later this winter back to south Florida where they were originally rescued."
The pens are secluded, Parker said, so the panthers can be raised while still keeping their contact with people as minimal as possible.
Parker said five other panther kittens have been raised at White Oak. The three females and two males raised at the center have been released in South Florida.
Frohlich, speaking about the FWC's contract with White Oak to care for panther kittens, said, "They are uniquely qualified to raise panthers in an environment that maximizes their chances for a successful re-introduction back into the wild."
Parker said scientists estimate there are between 100 and 160 adult and subadult panthers in South Florida.
First Coast News