1:10 A.M. — A male Florida panther suspected of killing livestock in eastern Collier County has been captured, collared and released.
Over the past month, one or more panthers have killed several calves in the Sunniland area.
“We confirmed four calves – we were called out and saw them,” said Mark Lotz, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist. “The owners claim there have been more, maybe six or seven total.”
Biologists from FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set out Wednesday to capture any panther near where the calves were killed.
Hounds detected panther scent a little more than a mile from the predation area and followed the trail into the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. When the panther was treed, it was tranquilized and captured. After biologists placed a combination radio and GPS collar on the panther, took biological samples and administered vaccinations, the animal was released on site.
Because the Florida panther’s population is almost entirely confined to South Florida, inbreeding has led to numerous genetic defects, including heart and reproductive problems, kinked tails and cowlicks on the shoulder.
In 1995, officials introduced eight female Texas cougars to South Florida to mate with local cats and improve the gene pool.
Many of the panthers descended from the Texas cougars have no sign of genetic deficiencies, and the 4- to 5-year-old panther captured Wednesday did not have a kinked tail or cowlick, indicating a lack of genetic defects.
Introduction of the cougars also helped increase the Florida panther population from about 35 to more than 100.
Predation of livestock by panthers is a new phenomenon.
“As the population grows, we can expect more interaction between panthers and people,” said wildlife service spokesman Ken Warren said.
At this point, biologists don’t know whether the panther they captured killed any of the calves.
“The panther didn’t start from a fresh calf kill, so there’s no direct evidence that he’s the one,” Lotz said.
“That’s why we didn’t move him. We collared him and left him on the site. We’ll be monitoring him, seeing what he does.”
Under the state and federal panther response plan, if a panther’s behavior shows a high risk to human safety, it will be removed from the wild, either kept in captivity or destroyed.
In 2006, a male panther that killed several domestic animals in the Ochopee area was captured and moved 30 miles away. But the panther returned within 48 hours and continued killing domestic animals, so it was moved to Busch Gardens in Tampa.
“This case is different,” Lotz said.
“The plan doesn’t cover cattle ranching specifically. The classification of being a threat is not as clear-cut. As far as him being removed, it’s too early to say if that day will come.”
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