YULEE, Fla. - A 4-month-old panther was found wandering alone, and Florida wildlife officials made several attempts – including using towels with the kitten's scent – to find its mother. It worked and it was all captured on camera.
The kitten was located in Collier County back in March and was taken to Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens to be medically evaluated. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they searched for signs of the mother but couldn't find her.
That's when FWC and federal wildlife officials used towels with the kitten's scent to mark trails near where it was found in order to attract the mother.
They placed the kitten inside a cage and positioned a camera with a live feed in front of it. Biologists were nearby, ready to open the cage of the female panther showed up – but she didn't. They decided to take the kitten to White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida, for rehab care.
But then, the next night, the mother panther showed up and walked near the kitten's initial release site. So, they tried again.
The kitten was brought back to Naples and placed in a cage. The live stream was monitored, but, once again, the mother didn't appear. It was transported back to Naples Zoo the following morning with plans to make a third attempt later that day.
The third time was the charm. That night, the female panther approached the kitten's cage "and immediately showed maternal behavior toward the kitten," according to FWC officials.
"FWC panther biologist released the kitten from the cage, reuniting mother and daughter! The kitten was fitted with a small, temporary, expanding radio-collar so biologists could verify that the dam continued to care for the kitten."
One month after their reunion, a trail camera showed the mother and child together.
As of Friday morning, officials said the kitten is "alive and well, being cared for by her mother."
Florida panthers are listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Back in the 1970s, the panther population had plummeted to about three dozen. Now, it is estimated to be more than 200.
Conservationists are trying to protect as much green space as possible. The Nature Conservancy, a worldwide organization, is responsible for protecting more than a million acres alone.