The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week recovered a "heavily scavenged" panther carcass, marking the 16th dead panther recorded by state officials this year.
The endangered predator was found on a piece of private land in Hendry County, east of the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. FWC researchers determined that the cat was 10 months old and killed by another cat.
As recently reported by New Times, 2012 has been a rough year on the iconic species. Although a panther killing another panther is defined as a natural cause of death, the frequency of these mortalities is likely to increase as habitat gives way to sprawl and the animals are forced to compete for fewer resources in tighter confines.
Between 2000 and 2011, 39 panthers died from "intraspecific aggression," or cat-on-cat attacks, according to an analysis of state data. That's an average of 3.25 such deaths a year.
In 2012 alone, however, FWC has already documented six panthers killed by other panthers. Eight other cats have been hit by cars, one died of malnutrition, and the cause of death for another remains unknown.
It's easier to find and document panthers killed by cars, since the remains are likely to be on the roadside. Cat-on-cat deaths tend to occur in the dense wilderness. Unless an FWC researcher or passerby happens upon the carcass, there's a good chance the decomposing beast could go undiscovered.
A 10-month-old panther is young and probably didn't stand a chance against an older cat that's been through a few territorial skirmishes in the past.
FWC researchers weren't able to determine the sex of the newly discovered carcass. It has been shipped to the FWC Wildlife Research Lab in Gainesville for a necropsy.
Losing a young female panther capable of breeding would be a blow as conservative estimates put the wild panther population somewhere around 100 cats.