Panther found dead of suspected gunshot wound

Published On: Dec 09 2013 10:44:21 AM EST
OCHOPEE, Fla. -

Authorities say an endangered Florida panther has been found dead of a suspected gunshot wound on federal land.

The panther was found dead Saturday in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County.

Preserve Superintendent Pedro Ramos says the panther's death is "a serious incident." The National Park Service is asking anyone with information about the panther's death to contact investigators at 1-800-788-0511.

Florida panthers are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The maximum sentence for the unlawful taking of a Florida panther is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Panthers are extremely rare. The big cats once ranged across the southeastern United States, but now they are found primarily in southern Florida. Wildlife officials estimate that between 100 and 150 adult panthers remain in the wild.