The Florida panther is the Sunshine State's official animal, namesake of South Florida's hockey team and featured on tens of thousands of Protect the Panther state license plates. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the big cat's endangered species status. The Florida panther deserves federal protection, and without it one of this state's most iconic animals would be unnecessarily endangered.Since the endangered list was created in 1967, the Florida panther has been on it. Protection has worked, with a current estimated population of about 200. In the mid-1990s, there were no more than 20 to 30 Florida panthers. The endangered designation helps stabilize populations, prevent extinction and conserve habitat. As this federal review begins, some are looking for the panther to lose that status, arguing the Florida panther may not technically be a different subspecies from other pumas, which are common in the western United States. Others have questioned if the animal is special enough to warrant the status in the first place and should be hunted. That's ridiculous, and Floridians should stand up for this treasured animal that has become a part of the state's identity. While this is a routine five-year review, concerned citizens should be alert for a possible change. In March, the federal agency foolishly downgraded manatees from endangered to threatened, despite opposition from the public and scientists. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should heed the slogan on those specialty Florida license plates: Protect the panther.