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Rescued Florida panther kitten arrives at Lowry Park Zoo (w/video)

Just three weeks ago, he was discovered in the wilderness, nonresponsive and with an extremely low body temperature. A Florida panther kitten, he's one of a disappearing breed that conservationists are desperately trying to protect.

So the panther biologists who found him made their decision: The kitten would come with them.

Now 4 weeks old, the kitten is being taken care of at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo so he can become stronger before his next journey.

A team of panther biologists rescued the kitten at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County in mid-January when it was about a week old.

Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida discovered the 1-pound male kitten as they were conducting research.

"We want to give any panther kitten the best opportunity to survive in the wild," said FWC veterinarian Dr. Mark Cunningham in a news release. "But clearly this kitten was in poor condition and almost certainly would have died without intervention."

Biologists took the kitten to the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida in Naples, where veterinarians and staff stabilized him and performed life-saving measures.

Once the kitten was strong enough to travel, biologists brought him to the Lowry Park Zoo. The young male is the fourth kitten and eighth panther to receive rehabilitation at the zoo, according to the FWC release.

Initial assessments indicate the tawny kitten is healthy and active and has an excellent appetite, according to a news release from the zoo. The young male weighed 2.8 pounds when it arrived at the zoo and is now 4.1 pounds and growing.

The kitten is receiving 24-hour care from the zoo's veterinary team. In the next few weeks, the staff will work with the kitten to wean it from a bottle to a meat-based diet.

Because the kitten was so young when he was rescued, he will not learn survival skills from his mother and can't be released into the wild. The FWC had no information about what happened to the kitten's mother.

The kitten will not be on public display but, once old enough (about 8 weeks), he will be taken to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where park visitors can observe him.

Watch the video to get the full effect of the kitten's cuteness. His growl and his sleepy eyes will have you melting. Find it at tampabay.com/video, or scan this code with your smart phone to view it right now.

Rescued Florida panther kitten arrives at Lowry Park Zoo (w/video) 02/20/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 6:18pm]
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