Orphaned Florida Panther Released into the Wild at Big Cypress National Preserve

Trail camera image of FP194 at White Oak Conservation Center shortly
before its release back to the wild. Photo courtesy of Karen Meeks.

The tale of a young Florida panther known as K304 reached an important milestone last week when the cat was released into the wild at Big Cypress National Preserve. Just over a year ago, the animal was found orphaned after the death of its mother.

In October 2010 a mortality signal from a radio collar alerted researchers to the death of a female Florida panther in the park. The cat had given birth to two male kittens five months earlier. Although one of the young animals was never found, the other, dubbed K304, was located and taken to the White Oak Conservation Center, a wildlife facility in northeastern Florida.

At that location, K304 was cared for and housed in appropriate facilities with minimal human contact. The Florida Panther Research and Management Trust Fund paid for K304's care while at White Oak.

Last month, it was determined that K304, a young, healthy cat, had reached an age that allowed it to be released near the area it was born.

Early on November 29, the cat was captured and tranquilized within the holding facility at the center, fitted with a new radio collar by NPS staff, and evaluated. The cat, now a year-and-a-half old and weighing 86 pounds, was found to be in good condition and accordingly released. Park staff will monitor movements of the cat by tracking the animal via its new radio collar.

A park spokesperson noted, "The release marked another step in efforts to protect this endangered species, with a current estimated population of only 120 individuals. This number, however, is a decided improvement from the estimated of 30 to 50 cats in the 1990s. The population is found within the Greater Everglades Region of South Florida. The primary threats facing the cats today are deaths due to car collisions and loss of habitat."

You can view a short video clip of the cat's release at this link.