8th panther death of 2013 reported in SW Florida

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BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE, Fla. (AP) — The remains of an endangered Florida panther were found Friday in southwest Florida.

The 5- or 6-year-old female with a tracking collar was found in Big Cypress National Preserve, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported.

It's the eighth panther death of the year. The dead panther, which appears to have been killed in a fight with another panther, will be taken to the FWC's Wildlife Research Lab in Gainesville for a necropsy.

The Florida panther once ranged across the southeastern United States, but it is now found primarily in southern Florida. The wildlife conservation commission estimates that between 100 and 160 adult panthers remain in the wild, south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee.

Much of their habitat has been lost to development. Scientists say panthers need lots of land where they can hunt deer, wild hogs, raccoons, armadillos, and rabbits. Officials say five panthers have died this year following vehicle strikes. Vehicle strikes were blamed for most of the more than two dozen panther deaths reported last year.

Gov. Rick Scott had declared a day last month to be Florida Panther Day to raise awareness about the big cats' plight and conservation efforts to help their survival.

Wildlife officials say the panther population has risen in the past two decades, largely as a result of focused conservation efforts.

Panther research, management and protection efforts are funded through the sale of Florida panther specialty license plates.

The wildlife conservation commission asks the public to report any sightings of panthers or their tracks to help document their range.

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