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New Hope for Florida Panthers

November 14, 2014

New Hope for Florida Panthers

- as seen by -

Frank Ridgley Frank Ridgley

Although it is sometimes difficult to get up at 4 am for Florida panther season, I have never once been disappointed by the beauty of daybreak in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Through the night, National Park Service biologists dialed into a special cell phone hooked to a VHF receiver. The phone picks up automatically when called. It had been placed several days earlier just a few hundred yards from the possible den of a female panther. Our group listened intently to the “biologist-in-a-box.” The radio collared female had not left the pine island for a few days. When the biologists did not hear beeps from her collar, they knew she had gone off to hunt.

Our response team – made up of biologists, veterinarians, and technicians – monitors the health of individual cats and the population as a whole. We headed out by sunrise. After a long buggy ride, we formed a line to slowly forge through the thick pineland overgrowth to look for the den before the female came back. Suddenly, one of the biologists let out a “woop” to let us know they had found it.

Inside the den were three healthy Florida panther kittens with those captivating blue eyes – each one so important to the panther’s future.

Florida panthers are listed as federally endangered. In 2013, the population estimate was 120-180 individuals in the wild, confined to Southwest Florida.

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