A big cat trapped in Parkland on New Year’s Day and initially identified as a Florida panther might in fact be a more common puma and someone’s escaped pet.
Florida wildlife officials on Wednesday said Broward Sheriff’s deputies contacted them about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to report a panther in a yard in the 6400 block of Northwest 80th Terrace. WSVN said alarmed neighbors called 911 after snapping pictures of the cat lounging in a driveway. Agents arrived, found the animal, warned residents to steer clear and anesthetized the cat before trapping it.
Agents said the cat was wearing what appeared to be a black collar, suggesting the animal was an escaped pet.
While a wildlife official identified the cat as a panther, whether it is a protected Florida panther is unclear. Florida panthers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and have dwindled to fewer than 230. Only organizations that rescue injured wildlife or scientific research are given permits to possess the animals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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Since the 1970s, when the number of Florida panthers shrank to 20 or so, state and federal officials have embarked on a decades-long effort to save the cats, introducing Texas cougars to reinvigorate the populations while struggling to preserve habitat.
The panther’s range is primarily in southwest Florida, in the Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Everglades National Park. Tracking data provided by panthers outfitted with radio tracking collars show since 2016 they have never wandered as far east as Broward County, so a Parkland spotting would be rare.
FWC spokesman Robert Klepper said the cat appeared to be in good health and weighs about 60 pounds. It is less than a year old, so technically still a kitten, he said. Other than the collar, it had no other identifying marks, he said. No escaped wildlife have been reported in the area, he said, nor is anyone licensed to have a Florida panther located nearby.
Hair samples have been taken to identify the species, he said, and the cat will remain at a wildlife facility until it is identified.
Anyone with information is asked to contact FWC at 888-404-3922 or email Tip@MyFWC.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward, Klepper said.