The last two Florida panthers in the park may be allowed to stay because a young male tracked down two female outsiders for mating.
Wildlife biologists, worried about the survival of the endangered species, thought they might have to move the easily stressed cat after the two remaining females in the park died last year.
But the panther known to researchers as No. 42 wandered north and found two females in the neighboring Big Cypress National Preserve, spending five days with one and four days with the other.
"I'd been waiting for this to happen for two years," said Deborah Jansen, wildlife biologist with the National Park Service.
With only 30 to 50 panthers remaining in the wild, increased breeding in captivity and the wild is essential for survival.
"We don't know for sure that the females are pregnant," Jansen said.
They'll know for sure in April.
Officials had decided that if No. 42 stayed in the park until Jan. 15, they would move him to the females' territory, but he had moved by Christmas.
"I'm always amazed at how well things work out," said Tom Logan of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. "If we had moved him, our concern was the trauma and so forth would have resulted in his high-tailing it back south."
The last panthers in the park were No. 42 and his father, No. 16.
The more worldly No. 16 already has begun traveling back and forth between his home territory and Big Cypress. He had mated with one of the Big Cypress females, Jansen said.