Reunited and It Feels So Good
Nearly 28 consecutive hours of driving and four days trekking through unforgiving Everglades habitat brought about a once-in-a-lifetime reunion for one lucky Florida panther kitten.
A concerned citizen brought FWC Panther Project staff a 4-month-old panther kitten thought to be abandoned; kittens typically remain with their mothers for one year. At birth, panther kittens are covered in black spots, which provide camouflage among forest debris and disappear as they mature. Dr. Hollis Stewart, FWC’s expert big cat veterinarian, and Dr. Dave Onorato, FWC research scientist, stepped in to help.
The pair spread the kitten’s scent within a mile radius of where it was found in hopes the mother would return. Meanwhile, the kitten underwent a health assessment at the nearby Naples Zoo. To their dismay, there was no sign of the kitten’s mother.
The difficult decision was made to drive the kitten to White Oak Conservation, a 17,000-acre conservation center in northeastern Florida. Since 1986, White Oak has rehabilitated and released 19 sick or injured Florida panthers. The only issue? The esteemed conservation center was almost 400 miles away.
Dedicated FWC staff drove the kitten to its new home and returned back to Collier County, a roundtrip of 14 hours. But upon return, the kitten’s mother decided to show up. FWC staff made the drive back to Yulee, Florida to retrieve the kitten and once again return. The reunion was caught on video, along with trail footage captured weeks later of the duo still together:
The ordeal, albeit one with a happy ending, sparked the idea for volunteer “Panther Pilots” to help transport panther kittens, injured or sick panthers, or panthers in need of time-sensitive transportation. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in this pilot program (pun-intended), please email us.
The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida’s Adopt-a-Panther is a fun way to introduce the young and the young-at-heart to the endangered Florida panther and support rescue efforts of the Florida Panther Project. When you adopt a panther, you will receive a plush stuffed Florida panther, an official adoption certificate, and information about the panther and conservation efforts.