Mystery of panther death solved

Teresa Stepzinski
This Florida panther, designated FP-250, was found dead in November - nine months after released back into the wild by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists. The big cat was released in February after recovering from life-threatening injuries it sustained when hit by a car last summer. [Carlton Ward Jr./Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]

State wildlife biologists determined an endangered Florida panther was killed by one of its own kind nine months after he was released back into the wild following rehabilitation at a Nassau County conservation center for previously near-fatal injuries.

The 3-year-old male — designated FP 250 — died from injuries suffered in a fight with another panther.  Such battles are the second most common cause of mortality in panthers after vehicle strikes, said Michelle Kerr, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

State researchers found his carcass — severely decomposed and scavenged by animals — Nov. 5 in the woods of North Belle Meade near Naples in Collier County. Initially the death was classified as undetermined pending necropsy results.

The Dec. 10 necropsy revealed numerous wounds. The panther had puncture wounds over his head, face and rest of his 64-pound body. Two claws on his front left paw were severely frayed, the tip of his front right canine tooth was snapped off and his left ear tip was torn.

They were unable to determine internal injuries because of the condition of the carcass. However, it appeared the panther was in "good to excellent body condition" when he died, according to the necropsy at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

FP 250 was the 27th of the 29 panthers found dead this year in Florida with two weeks left before 2019. The big cat is among only three not killed on state roads this year. The remaining 26 or 90 percent died from being hit by vehicles, according to state Fish and Wildlife Commission data

A total of 30 died last year including 77 percent or 23 from vehicles.

Before 2000, annual panther road kills were four or less. Some scientists and others say as the panther population increases, so, too, will the number killed in collisions with cars and trucks.

FP 250 died roughly 60 miles — by car — southwest of the Hendry County wildlife management area where he’d been returned to the wild in February following rehabilitation at a Nassau County wildlife refuge/conservation center.

The panther almost died June 7, 2017, when hit by a car in Collier County — roughly eight miles from where his remains were later recovered. He suffered multiple injuries including three broken legs. They rushed the panther to Animal Specialty Hospital of Florida & 24-Hour ER in Naples, where he underwent six hours of surgery.

The panther convalesced at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. On Nov. 1, 2017, he arrived at White Oak Conservation — a respected nonprofit conservation center in Yulee north of Jacksonville — for the final phase of rehabilitation before being returned to the wild.

State researchers last saw FP 250 alive Feb. 16 as they set him free at at Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area in Hendry County. His GPS tracking collar later led them to his carcass.

Researchers estimate the Florida panther population totals from 120 to 230 adult and sub-adult animals statewide — a significant recovery from the estimated 20 to 30 in the 1970s. Most are found south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee in Southwest Florida.

There are more Florida panthers now than when designated a federally endangered species in 1967. However, the official state animal is still considered the most endangered mammal in the eastern United States.

People can report injured or dead panthers toll-free to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, (888) 404-3922 or text Wildlife Alert to

For more panther information, or

Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075