The National Park Service is trying to find out who shot and killed an 18-month-old female Florida panther found Saturday in the remote interior of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Some camp owners found the cat’s body in the Turner River Unit six to seven miles north of Monroe Station near the intersection of the Buckskin and Monument Bypass off-road vehicle trails in Collier County and called law enforcement authorities, according to preserve spokesman Bob DeGross.
The park service, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is asking for the public’s help in identifying the shooter, and may pay reward money.
The Florida panther is one of the most endangered mammals in the U.S., with a population estimated at 120 to 160 statewide. Between 20 and 30 panthers may be in the Big Cypress at any one time, according to DeGross. The dead cat bore a microchip identifying it as #368 but had no radio tracking collar. It’s believed to be the fourth one found shot since 1983. Maximum penalties for poaching are one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
DeGross said the cat probably had not been dead long when it was found. The body was taken to a local animal hospital to collect evidence and will be transferred to a USFWS forensic lab in Oregon for further work-up.
The Big Cypress has been open for general gun deer hunting season since Nov. 16, but people visit the area year-round. Anyone with information is asked to contact investigator David Mayeski at 1-800-788-0511.