An endangered Florida panther found dead on the side of a road near Immokalee in early March “was intentionally killed and partially mutilated,” according to wildlife officials.
Someone hurt the animal March 7, then “transported (it) under the cover of darkness” and left the body beside County Road 846, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in a news release Thursday. The federal agency noted the killing happened on the opening weekend of spring turkey hunting season. It announced a $5,000 reward in conjunction with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for information leading to a suspect.
Florida panthers are listed under the Endangered Species Act, with their population thought to total between 120 and 230 adults, according to the state wildlife agency. Fourteen panthers have died this year, the state reports, nearly all of them hit by vehicles. One was struck by a train, and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as of late Wednesday still listed the cause of death for the panther found March 8 as “under investigation.” The animal was a 1-year-old female, according to the state.
As of this time last year, data show, Florida had reported 14 panthers dead. By the end of 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said, 27 panthers had died, nearly all hit by drivers.
Purposefully killing a panther, according to the news release, can land a person in federal prison for one year and fined as much as $100,000. Authorities ask anyone who knows something about the panther’s death to call a 24-hour state hotline at 888-404-3922, or a federal tips line at 844-397-8477. People can also email Tip@MyFWC.com.