A panther, which was rescued by Florida Fish and Wildlife officials as a five-month-old kitten in 2011, has been released into the wild in Collier County's Picayune Strand State Forest.
Thursday night, biologists transported the female via crate into the state forest. Once the hatch was opened, the endangered cat peaked out before leaping to her freedom -- outfitted with a collar so FWC can continue to track her.
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The panther and her brother were rescued near the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in northern Collier County in September 2011 after their mother was found dead.
The siblings as well as other rescued panthers have been raised at White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee in the years since.
"This panther is healthy and has grown to a size that should prepare her for life in the wild,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader.
FWC officials say they chose Picayune for the release after finding there was ample space between "home ranges" of other female panthers in the area.
Meanwhile her brother is not yet ready for release, reports Naples News.
Sadly, the very same day, FWC biologists found two dead uncollared panthers, bringing the 2013 death total to five in just a month's time. One was a highway causality while the other's cause of death has not yet been determined.
Twenty-six panthers reportedly died in 2012, making it one of the deadliest on record.
Panthers are classified as endangered as only 100-160 reportedly remain in Florida. And the situation could get worse.
FWC details that panthers could lose 300,000 acres of roaming land by 2060, not helped by the fact that Gov. Rick Scott is bringing back a construction plan to build a highway corridor as well as scaling back on growth management laws that help wildlife.
In December, motion-triggered cameras captured an uncollared panther moving her kittens -- the first-time such an event has been captured on FWC's cameras.
How You Can Help: Support conservation efforts like the rescue and rehabilitation of this panther through the purchase of a panther license plate.
To report dead or injured panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.