NAPLES, Fla. - It is said that "Success breeds success." In one case, several successes led to the happy news of the birth of a Florida panther kitten near the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in southwest Florida.
The story began on a sad note. In September 2011, a pair of orphaned five-month-old Florida panther kittens was rescued by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists, after their mother was found dead. Too young to survive on their own, they were raised in captivity at White Oak Plantation in Yulee, Fla., with the goal of one day releasing them back into the wild.
Once they were able to make it on their own, the young adults were outfitted with radio collars, so biologists could track their movements. They were reintroduced back into the wild in separate locations that were deliberately chosen to avoid overlap with the known home ranges of other collared panthers.
Only 23 days after she was returned to the wild in the Picayune Strand Restoration Project area, Jan. 31, 2013, Florida panther 219 (FP 219) mated with a local male panther. There are only an estimated 100 to 160 adult and juvenile Florida panthers in the last remaining breeding population south of the Caloosahatchee River.
Rather than staying in one place, which normally cues biologists that a female may have denned, FP 219 apparently moved her kitten frequently. When her kitten was finally discovered in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park east of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project area, the one-month-old, blue-eyed, spotted bundle of fur weighed 3.5 pounds and appeared to be healthy.
"We were very excited to find this panther's kitten," said Dave Onorato, FWC biologist. "The fact that she has given birth is positive news for the recovery of this endangered species and a testament to the hard work of all involved in its rescue and rehabilitation. While we are encouraged the female became a contributor to the population so quickly, it was not completely unexpected, given that her home range is within prime panther habitat. The new kitten has a chance of one day contributing to the population as well."
"The Picayune Strand Restoration Project connects surrounding state and federal lands, including nature preserves and wildlife areas. It provides contiguous land area with opportunities for habitat for many animal species, including the Florida panther," said Lacy Shaw, project manager.
"The work done on the Prairie Canal area several years ago by our partners at the South Florida Water Management District has already provided benefits, not only to Picayune Strand but also the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park to the east of the project site," said Shaw. "Corps construction projects are moving forward, with Merritt Pump Station construction scheduled to be complete in fall 2013, followed by the Faka Union Pump Station in fall 2014. We are currently performing operational testing and monitoring of all systems in the Merritt Pump Station and expect to award the Miller Pump Station contract by the end of the year. We expect all phases of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project to be complete in 2018."
View a brief video of the Florida panther kitten recently discovered by FWC biologists: http://www.flickr.com/photos/myfwcmedia/9144084538/
Read the original article "Rescued Florida panther released into Picayune Strand" in the April 2013 issue of JaxStrong: http://1.usa.gov/YY0PKj