A Florida panther that was rescued two years ago as an orphan and released in January has given birth to a healthy kitten.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists found a month-old, 3 1/2 pound female kitten Saturday in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in Copeland in southwest Florida, near where they released the young adult panther Jan. 31.
"We were very excited to find this panther's kitten," said Dave Onorato, an FWC panther biologist. "The fact that this panther 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."
A radio collar was attached to the mother so biologists could track her after the release. Her movements and behavior gave them clues that she was in a den, according to Kevin Baxter of the FWC. They waited for her to leave and then examined the cub.
Biologists estimate the female panther got pregnant about three weeks after her release, when she was only 21 months old, which is younger than the typical age of first conception, according to the FWC.
The biologists examined the kitten and tagged it so for identification purposes to document whether it eventually becomes part of the adult population.
An estimated 100 to 160 adult and younger panthers remain in south Florida.
The FWC rescued the now mother and its brother as 5-month-old kittens in September 2011 after their mother was found dead. They were raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee and then released. The FWC released the male panther in April at the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in south Florida.