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A female Florida panther rescued as an orphaned kitten and raised in captivity has given birth, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday.
Biologists report the panther gave birth about a month ago, about four months after her release back into the wild. They found her kitten Saturday at the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in southwest Florida, near where the mother was released.
"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."
The panther mother was rescued alongside her brother as 5-month-old kittens in September 2011, after their mother was found dead. Both panthers were raised in the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee and released as young adults.
Biologists placed a collar that tracked the movements of both panthers and recently discovered the female had been staying confined to one general area, indicating that she had given birth and was staying close to the den where she was keeping her kitten, FWC spokesman Kevin Baxter said.
Biologists discovered the den behind a tree and waited for the mother panther to leave before approaching the kitten. The kitten was then evaluated and tagged for identification to document whether she one day becomes part of the endangered adult population.
"Kitten survival rates are pretty low, but this kitten looked healthy and feisty," Onorato said.
About 100 to 160 adult and adolescent panthers remain in South Florida.
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