Florida Panther Found Dead

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A Florida panther found dead on Interstate 4 in Osceola County Wednesday was wearing a collar that could help researchers understand the panther's movements since March 2005.

"It's unfortunate that another Florida panther has been killed on Florida's roadways. With so few panthers remaining, the loss of any individual is potentially significant," said Dr. Dave Onorato, a panther researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). "However, this particular panther was wearing a GPS collar that should contain informative data in terms of fine-scale movement patterns during the past year and a half. This may help temper the loss via a better understanding of how panthers are dealing with the patchwork of remaining habitat that occurs north of the Caloosahatchee River."

Florida panther FP130 was wearing a collar programmed to collect location information using the Global Positioning Satellite system, or GPS, coordinates every hour for the past two years. These coordinates translate to real locations, and once scientists retrieve the data from the collar, they will be able to see exactly where the panther's travels have taken it. This will give them insight into how male Florida panthers that travel north of the Caloosahatchee River in South Florida use the habitat available to them.

"Although the death of FP130 is unfortunate, it underscores the true challenges that panthers are facing in Florida today. The expansion of the panther population from the confines of South Florida continues to be stymied by the lack of dispersal by females to the north of the Caloosahatchee River," Onorato said.

"The male panthers that make these long-distance movements appear to be able to survive for periods of time, until they begin to search for females. If we truly hope to assist in the continued persistence of panthers in Florida, we will need to contemplate preserving a patchwork of habitat and linkage zones north of the river and potentially relocating several reproductive females."

"Obviously, such management issues will require the collaboration of private and government entities and will have to overcome socio-political challenges. That said, as with any endangered species, time is of essence."

Male Florida panther FP 130 was found dead on I-4 between mile markers 60 and 61 in Osceola County around 3 p.m. Wednesday. The carcass was found off the highway a few feet from a wetland area.

"The panther was barely visible from the highway," said Lt. Jeff Hudson, the FWC officer who picked him up for transport to the agency's research lab in Gainesville. "A few feet farther into the wetland and he probably would never have been seen."

Preliminary observations indicate FP 130 was hit and killed by a vehicle. However, FWC researcher Dr. Mark Cunningham will necropsy him Friday to confirm the cause of death. At the same time, scientists will collect samples and measurements and examine the panther for incidental diseases and abnormalities.

FWC researchers are well-acquainted with FP 130. He was a male panther born in 2003 in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest in Hendry County. Scientists first handled him on June 3, 2003 when he was an estimated 6-10 days old. He was from the first litter of FP 110 who was born in early 2001, herself a progeny of another known panther, FP 82.

Ironically, FWC panther biologists examined FP 110's most recent litter on March 20, the day before FP 130 was found dead. The four kittens (two males and two females) appeared to be 10-12 days old and healthy. Like FP 130, they were born in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest.

FP 130 received his first radio tracking collar on March 4, 2004 in the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and eventually traveled north of the Caloosahatchee River looking for his own territory. He spent the next couple of years north of the river in Glades and Highlands counties, primarily in the Fisheating Creek area. In March of 2005 he was fitted with a GPS collar, which enabled scientists to track him through satellite technology instead of radio telemetry, which requires flights three times a week.

In late October 2006 FP 130's signal disappeared, and he hadn't been heard from until he was found dead Wednesday afternoon.

FP 130 was found very near where another uncollared panther was killed on April 11, 2006.