Florida first: Panther family released back to the wild

- A Florida panther and her two kittens have been released back into the wild after spending months in captivity.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the panther family Tuesday on the Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County. It was the first time they've rescued, rehabilitated and released a family group of the endangered animals.

Fish and Wildlife officials say the mother was rescued in December after she was struck by a vehicle near Naples. Veterinarians treated her for a broken hind leg and she was taken to White Oak Conservation Foundation for rehabilitation.

Biologists suspected her three kittens were in the area near where the mother was injured. They located two kittens and brought them to the rehab facility, where they eventually were reunited with their mother.

“Typically, orphaned kittens still dependent on their mothers need to be kept in captivity until they can survive on their own,” said Darrell Land, FWC's panther team leader. “However, in this case, the mother can continue to raise her kittens, teaching them the required survival and social skills they would not receive in captivity.”

Footage released by the agency shows the trio scampering off into the woods Tuesday.

The mother panther in this case was not new to FWC's rescue and rehabilitation team. In 2013, she was struck by a vehicle and had to be rescued, then released. In the years between the two accidents, she has produced three litters of kittens, contributing to the Florida panther population.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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