Florida's best-known wild animal is not one to mess with in the wild. The famed Florida Panther — a protected endangered species that scientists estimate has been reduced to between 100 and 160 animals — lands in the headlines anytime one is found dead. And when one is killed, law enforcement investigates the death like a homicide. That's what's going down now.
On March 22, a motorist called in a dead panther off Immokalee Road in Collier County. The panther was found about a mile west of Camp Keais Road, an area located north of I-75 and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and east of Naples.
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When Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers responded to the scene, they initially thought the panther had been hit by a car. Upon further investigation, officials determined the animal had been shot.
FloridaPantherNet.org has a listing of all the dead panthers discovered this year. According to the data, the Collier County panther gunned down was 5 years old. He was the 13th dead panther discovered in 2015; since the March discovery, an additional four panthers have been found dead, bringing the grand total of dead panthers found so far in 2015 to 17.
In 2014, park officials reported 34 panther deaths (that includes animals who died in captivity, as well as animals hit by cars or found dead of undetermined causes). In 2013, the same website lists 20 deaths; in 2012, 27. The records indicate only three other panthers have been found killed by gunplay: a female in 2013 at the Big Cypress National Preserve, a female in 2009 at the Big Cypress Mitigation Bank, and a male in 2009 in Troup County, Georgia.
FWC is investigating the killing. It is offering a $5,000 reward for any information related to the dead animal.