Endangered Florida Panthers in Captivity Find Their Way Back into the Wild

by Sienna Murray, age 12

In Florida, a pair of endangered panthers was released from the White Oak Conservation Center and made their way back into the wild.

The male panther was only five months old when he and his sister were rescued by wildlife officials in 2011 after their mother was found dead. The two young panthers were then raised in the center. It is very rare for panthers raised in captivity to be released back into the wild.

The siblings were raised in fenced pens located in the forest around the conservation center in northeast Florida. Over time, the pens became larger and larger to gradually get the panthers used to living in the wild.

In mid-April 2013, wildlife officials drove from the White Oak Conservation Center located in northeast Florida to Palm Beach County where they freed the male panther into the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area. When it was released, the panther ran off with strength and speed.

“To see him run straight like that for such a long distance and running free off into the woods makes everything worthwhile,” said Dave Oranato, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission scientist. “Having him in the wild with the potential to contribute to reproductive output really is what we need for panther recovery.”

The female panther was released in Collier County in February with a collar around her neck that allows researchers to track her. If the female panther can produce a litter of kittens, the release will be considered as a success.

For the male, the release will be deemed successful if it survives at least a year in a competitive environment. Young males are often attacked and killed by larger, older panthers that are securing and protecting their territory, which can be as much as 200 square miles. Only 15 juvenile and adult panthers have been treated at the center and released. Since they started working with the big cats in 1986.

About 160 endangered Florida panthers remain and most live in captivity.

[Source: Associated Press]