Young panthers being tracked in Yulee

YULEE, Fla. - Two young panthers outfitted with radio collars are being tracked in Yulee after weekend winds from Hurricane Sandy knocked down a tree onto their enclosure fence, where the two cats, a female and her brother, were being raised at White Oak Conservation Center.

Both panthers are currently out of their pen but have been located by panther experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using telemetry to track the radio-collars on the panthers. The two cats have not traveled far from their pen, according to officials, and are still on White Oak property. The panthers are under continuous monitoring, and officials are working diligently to return them to their enclosure.

The two cats were initially captured when they were 5 months old. They were found near the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in northern Collier County in September 2011.

"The two kittens born in May 2011 were trapped by our staff due to the death of their mother," said Kipp Frohlich, head of the Imperiled Species Management Section at the FWC. "They were transferred to White Oak Conservation Center to be raised and prepared for release later this winter back to South Florida, where they were originally rescued."

The pens are very secluded and the panthers can be raised with very little contact with people. Five other kittens, three females and two males of similar ages, have been raised at White Oak and released in South Florida.

The FWC has a contract with White Oak to care for panther kittens.

"They are uniquely qualified to raise panthers in an environment that maximizes their chances for a successful re-introduction back into the wild," Frohlich said.

Scientists estimate that between 100 and 160 adults and subadults live in South Florida.

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