There are only around 160 Florida panthers left in the wild thanks to humans encroaching on their territory. We've tried our best to make it up to them by listing them as an endangered species, but even then someone occasionally (presumably not on purpose) hits one with their car. Rarely, however, do we find evidence that anyone actually went out and purposefully killed one.
Well, a dead panther was found on the side of a road last month. Authorities originally assumed it was a victim of a hit-and-run, but further investigation found that there was a bullet wound in the animal's body and no evidence to support a car crash.
The animal was found on March 22 in Collier County laying on the side of Immokalee Road a mile west of Camp Keais Road. That's near the edge of civilization on the west coast, and just a little south of the Immokalee Airport and a little north of Ava Maria, a remote Catholic-themed town funded by the founder of Domino's Pizza.
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The panther, a full-grown male, would be the 15th panther found dead in 2015 alone. Authorities originally believed it was the ninth panther to be hit by a car, but it turns out it was actually the first that was killed by a gun. Such cases are relatively rare, but not unheard of. Six Florida panthers have been shot to death in the past 8 years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now offering a $5,000 reward for any tips that lead to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible. Anyone who kills an endangered species could face a year in jail and a $100,000 fine, though Florida law specifically allows up to a five-year sentence for anyone convicted of killing a panther. However, only two of those recent dead panther cases lead to convictions. Both were hunters, and though they face penalties including probation, neither faced actual time in jail.
Anyone with information is asked to call FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.