An endangered Florida panther that was rescued as a kitten has died less than a year after being released back into the wild, officials said Monday.
The young male panther's radio collar alerted officials Friday that the animal was not moving and could be dead, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.
The lethargic panther was found on private land in Hendry County and taken to a veterinary clinic, where it died Saturday, Segelson said.
The panther had been in the same general area for the previous five days, but the cause of death wasn't immediately clear, Segelson said. It was in an area with abundant deer and wild hog populations, and its movements were typical for a male panther.
A necropsy is planned at the wildlife commission's laboratory in Gainesville.
The panther and its sister were rescued by wildlife officials in September 2011 in Collier County after their mother was found dead. They were raised in captivity before being released separately last year.
Instead of releasing the male in southwest Florida, where the core population of panthers are found, officials took it to Palm Beach County to the eastern edge of known panther breeding grounds. Young males can be attacked and killed by larger, older panthers securing their territory, and officials wanted to give this panther more space to roam in an area with fewer competitors.
Florida panthers once roamed the entire southeastern U.S., but only around 160 remain in the wild, and it's rare for the big cats to be cared for in captivity and then released.
It's the second panther death reported in 2014. A panther that had been roaming a Naples neighborhood was killed last week after colliding with a car involved in a multi-vehicle crash.