Baby Florida Panthers Are What We All Need Right Now
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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Baby Florida Panthers Are What We All Need Right Now

Some very important (and very cute) kittens have been spotted near Florida’s Caloosahatchee River.

There's a veritable bonanza of baby Florida panthers right now. And in case you're in need of a happiness booster today, we have the adorable photos to prove it.

At least two panther kittens were spotted on camera traps near Florida's Caloosahatchee River this year.

Their sightings were cause for celebration, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), as the kittens' momma is believed to be an important figure for the endangered species. She's the first wild female panther to be documented north of the river since 1973, which is the same year that Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) were listed under the Endangered Species Act.

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If she's indeed breeding, it means the panther's fragmented range could be expanding across a historic barrier: the Caloosahatchee River, which runs from the Gulf Coast of Florida and into the Everglades.

"This is good news for Florida panther conservation," Kipp Frohlich, deputy director for the FWC's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, said in a statement. "Until now, we only had evidence of panthers breeding south of the Caloosahatchee. These pictures of a female with kittens indicate there are now panthers breeding north of the river."

Florida panthers are a subspecies of cougar (also known as mountain lions, pumas, or catamounts). These reclusive felines once dominated the southeast, but habitat loss, hunting, and low genetic diversity have sequestered the species to just 5 percent of its historic range. Less than 300 individuals remain in the wild.

In the early 1970s, as few as 12 wild adult panthers were left. Contrary to what some might believe, the species is a fragile one, and depends on specific habitat requirements to survive. Panthers, for instance, need large swaths of lush swampland to feed, rest, and make their dens. As more of these wildlands are forfeited to real estate development, the harder it becomes for panthers to recover.

Conservation biologists are attempting to establish several breeding populations of Florida panthers. They'll need three of them to become self-sustaining for the species to be downgraded from "endangered" to "threatened."

"Early this year, the cameras captured images of a female that appeared to be nursing," said Darrell Land, the FWC's panther team leader. "For many years, the Caloosahatchee River has appeared to be a major obstacle to northward movement of female panthers. This verification of kittens with the female demonstrates panthers can expand their breeding territory across the river naturally."

FWS staff have been monitoring this particular female since 2015. She was first captured on camera near the Babcock Ranch Preserve Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte County.

The agency encourages residents to report their own panther sightings, which can help biologists map out where these big cats are making their homes.