Biologists rescue panther kitten in Collier County

A team of panther biologists rescued an approximately week-old Florida panther kitten at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County in mid-January.

Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida discovered the kitten while conducting research. The 1-pound male kitten had a dangerously low body temperature and was nonresponsive.

“We want to give any panther kitten the best opportunity to survive in the wild,” said FWC veterinarian Dr. Mark Cunningham. “But clearly this kitten was in poor condition and almost certainly would have died without intervention.”

Biologists transported the kitten to the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida in Naples, where veterinarians and staff performed life-saving measures. Although his condition improved quickly, he still required 24-hour care.

Once the kitten was strong enough to travel, biologists transported him to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. The young male is the fourth kitten and eighth panther to receive rehabilitation at the zoo.

Because this kitten was so young at the time of rescue, he will not learn survival skills from his mother and therefore cannot be released into the wild.

Although he will not return to the wild population, this panther will help to raise awareness and aid with potential research efforts. Initially the kitten will not be on public display but, once old enough, he will be transported to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where park visitors may observe him.

“This kitten exemplifies how joint efforts of the FWC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners are helping recover imperiled species in Florida,” said Kevin Godsea, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge for the USFWS. “We are certainly pulling for him and hope he leads a long, healthy life.”

The rehabilitation of this kitten would not be possible without the help of the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the Department of Environmental Protection’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Florida residents can support conservation efforts like the rescue of this kitten by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate at BuyaPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers.

For more information on Florida panthers, visit www.floridapanthernet.org.