TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- A tiny baby panther, found nearly frozen to death in Southwest Florida last month, is doing much better, caretakers report. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) came upon the unresponsive feline while conducting field research -- his breathing short and slow and his body temperature dangerously low.
The biologists sprang to action, transporting the fragile kitten to the Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida, where he received life-saving medical treatment. When rescued, the kitten weighed less than a pound and was roughly a week old. But he is currently well on his way to a full recovery. Now being cared for at the Lowry Park Zoo, the young panther weighs nearly five pounds.
"We want to give any panther kitten the best opportunity to survive in the wild," said Dr. Mark Cunningham, a FWC veterinarian. "But clearly this kitten was in poor condition and almost certainly would have died without intervention."
Separated from his mother at such a young age, the predator won't be able to ply his trade in the wild. Instead, he'll be transferred to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where he'll live out his days, aiding biological studies and helping to raise awareness about the plight of Florida panthers.
Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 100 wild panthers left in Florida, most of them concentrated inside Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Reserve.
"This kitten exemplifies how joint efforts of the FWC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners are helping recover imperiled species in Florida," said Kevin Godsea, manager of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge for the USFWS. "We are certainly pulling for him and hope he leads a long, healthy life."
[Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]