Panther kitten, © Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Survival of Florida Panthers: The Hope Continues

Lisa Östberg, Southwest Florida Coexistence Coordinator 

Back in April, it was a great joy to write about the release of a young male Florida panther into the wild. The panther was one of a pair of siblings that was orphaned back in 2011 when their mother was killed. Both cats were taken to a special rehabilitation facility where they were allowed to grow to young adulthood with very little exposure to humans, and were taught to hunt and fend for themselves in the wild.

FP219 was released into the wild in January, after having been rescued as a kitten in 2011. (©Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

FP219 was released into the wild in January, after having been rescued as a kitten in 2011. (©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Since their releases (the female was released in southwest Florida in late January, the male in southeast Florida in early April), both cats have been successfully moving about the south Florida landscape. We know this because of the radio collars they each sport: three days a week, members of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission‘s panther team take flight to locate them and each of the other 30 or so cats that have these special radio telemetry collars. This allows the team to monitor how panthers move about and spot irregularities in their movements, which can indicate both potential problems and potential successes for each monitored panther.

My news today is not about the male panther, but about his sister, known these days as FP219. Since her release in late January, she’s made her way from the Picayune Strand State Forest into the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park located to the east. Until late May, she’d been using lots of territory and moving freely, but near the end of the month her range became restricted and she stayed within points that were only about a mile apart. Biologists were curious: she wasn’t displaying normal denning behavior, but she certainly wasn’t moving as freely as she had since her release.

While checking on FP219 in the field, biologists discovered her new kitten! (©Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

While checking on FP219 in the field, biologists discovered her new kitten! (©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission)

So two of the FWC biologists took to the ground in the Fakahatchee in an attempt to figure out what was going on with FP219. They were looking for her, or for evidence she’d created a den in the area. At first, they found a couple places where it was clear she had rested, but no evidence of a den. The area in which they were looking was very wet, with only small patches of dry ground and not much ground vegetation – much wetter areas than a panther would normally choose for denning. The area in which she’d been moving about was certainly not optimal for bearing and raising kittens. Nonetheless, they kept looking, and then they heard something: not the sounds of an adult panther, but the call of a kitten wanting its mother!

Soon after, on a tiny patch of relatively “high” land (about the size of a small car) containing just a few wax myrtle shrubs, biologists located a beautiful, apparently healthy panther kitten nestled between the myrtle stems. She was given a full health exam, vaccinations, etc. and had a transponder chip inserted between her shoulder blades: this will allow her to be identified if she is ever captured or otherwise encountered again by biologists. The kitten, now known as K398 (she is the 398th kitten handled by biologists since they began studying panthers!) was then left safely where she’d been found, and the biologists continued looking for evidence of a clear den site or other kittens. None were found.

Biologists gave the kitten vaccinations and an exam to make sure she was healthy.  ©Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Biologists gave the kitten vaccinations and an exam to make sure she was healthy. (©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Today, FP219 is just 25 months old: a young mother indeed, but a beacon of hope for the future of Florida panthers. She has survived being orphaned at a very young age, growing into young adulthood in captivity while being taught how to survive in the wild, and then being released into a land she’d never passed through as a tiny kitten when her mother was still alive. Only about three weeks after being released, she met another panther and became pregnant with this precious kitten. She is a real example of the success of rescue and rehabilitation programs for injured or orphaned panthers and how important it is for us to protect and preserve Florida panthers, because each and every one of them contributes to the future of this beautiful endangered species.

25 Responses to “Survival of Florida Panthers: The Hope Continues”

  1. Sue

    So nice to hear a happy story for a change. What great work you do.

  2. Laurie Cody

    Dear Defenders,

    How exciting it must have been when you found the kitten. Can I assume that FP219 came back to her kitten? If so, were you able to watch this beautiful Mamma retrive her kitten, how exciting that must have been.

    Thank you,

    Laurie Cody
    Merritt Island, FL

  3. Savta

    please keep us updated on progress of the panthers. this is a wonderful story.

  4. Brandon C.

    I second Laurie Cody’s post…I anticipate an update on the kitten. Being her first ever and just a short time in the wild, it will be incredibly tough for FP219 to successfully raise her kitten. Hopefully she was trained well and has the genetic instinct to endure!

    Good luck, FP219!!
    …and K398!!

  5. MaryRose. OConnor

    What a beautiful story,and adorable panther kitten.
    I have been hoping over the years that this incredible cat would survive.
    There is still hope!
    Please keep us up to date.
    Thank you
    MaryRose

  6. Stelz

    Thanks to wonderful people like you, our wildlife may stand a chance. This is such a heart warming story, and I too would love to hear about the new mum and her cub. Thank you Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
    Stella

  7. Magda

    Wonderful story! Like all the others, we look forward to updates.

  8. CATherine Hamel

    My heart couldn’t be more warmed than it is after reading this successful save and return to nature story. What a delight that the female has a kitten! My great fear though, is with this being her first litter, she has no other female big cat panthers around to guide her in the area of being a good mom.

    PLEASE keep us updated on if FP219 DOES return to take care of her kitten, creates a safe den, and if the two end up successfully joining another group [what would the correct term be please] of Panthers. Praying for the safety of all three now in the wild.

    Thanks so very much for all that you do in aiding wildlife, and for keeping those of us who also care deeply about our environment and wildlife, updated.

  9. kristal malley

    thank you so much i love reading about this has brought tears to my eyes wtg wtg young kitty she did it wow a mothers love will protect this mother and baby wtg all that give a care for this big beauiful kitten thank you for letting me see that some people do care thank you and we are so proud of mommy cat you all did very real putting these cats back where they belong amen thank u

  10. kristal malley

    thank you so much i love reading about this has brought tears to my eyes wtg wtg young kitty she did it wow a mothers love will protect this mother and baby wtg all that give a care for this big beauiful kitten thank you for letting me see that some people do care thank you and we are so proud of mommy cat you all did very well putting these cats back where they belong amen thank u

  11. E.goodman

    I too want to know if the mother ame back to her kitten. Hope human handling didn’t scare her off.

  12. Cindy Q.

    It is great to hear how the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation is working to help our native animals come back from endangerment. My concern is about the animals that aren’t native to Florida, ie Burmese pythons, having an impact on the animals that are being watched & monitored so that the numbers can be increased. I pray that FP219 will keep showing the instincts that will help K398 to grow healthy & strong so that she can add to the species as well.

  13. Scott

    Great news, especially since the kitten is a female! Since the survival of this critically endangered species depends upon survival of breeding females, it would have been good of you to have included the kitten’s gender in your newsletter.

  14. margo

    This is such a wonderful event. My prayers go out to all the panthers and their kittens.

  15. Anne-ke

    What a beautiful story. Thanks to people like you. Please keep us up to date.
    Thank you
    Anne-ke

  16. Joanne Brown

    I truly enjoyed reading about the survival of the Panthers in Florida’s Everglades. Congratulations on the fine work you are doing in saving these beautiful cats. Again, thanks.

    Joanne Brown

  17. alan zukor

    i love all felines,great project,great work.would like updates.thank you.

  18. carolyn lombardi

    So nice to hear a good story now and then. Keep up the good work and god bless!

  19. Susana

    It is our job to protect the wildlife of earth and earth itself.

  20. Vivian

    Thank you to the wonderful people of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation…without your efforts, this would not be possible!
    There is hope … 8-)

  21. Roe LaMirand

    Hopefully something will be able to be done about the invasive Pythons and Boas so the native mammals will not be decimated. The “snake roundups” have been useless.

  22. margo

    Thank you for sharing that story ………………..it was good to hear a positive one …………..all the best for survival to those beautiful cats. Well done to you all for your dedicated and hard work. Thank you.

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