Ralph Arwood Photography
We first collared FP-239 on February 12, 2015. FP-239 weighed 44 pounds and was eleven months old. Her mother is FP-214.
The anesthesia take about 10 minutes to put the panther fully asleep. We used a net to keep FP-239 safe while she fell asleep.
FP-239 has the classic Florida Panther kinked tail.
August 19, 2017
K-481 and K-482
Telemetry locations from the end of July indicated that FP-239 was denning. Most of FP-239’s home territory is unreachable by swamp buggy. Fortunately for us she chose a den location 300 meters from a buggy trail. With the high water levels it was a two hours drive to reach the closest point to her den.
This is the first time we know of FP-239 having kittens. It is possible she could have denned two years ago when our telemetry flights were too sporadic to have sufficient data.
On August 4, 2017 we went to the area to set up the den monitoring box and triangulate the den location. We estimated that the kittens were about 10 days old. In this remote location there is no cell phone service on the ground. Placing a large yagi antenna on a thirty foot pole we could get intermittent cell service. Our plan was to go back and search for the kittens as soon as FP-239 was away from her den. FP-239’s plan was to keep us on standby for the next two weeks.
For the next six days the den box and telemetry flights showed that FP-239 remained at her den. On August 10, 2017 the battery powering the box went dead. Due to heavy rains from a tropical wave we could not fly or replace the battery until August 12, 2017.
Because of the cloudy weather and the difficulty reaching the box, we added a second solar cell to keep the battery charged longer. When the battery voltage got low, the phone would turn off. Even if the solar cells recharged the battery, we would still need to restart the phone.
On August 17, 2017 the phone turned off again. We went in by swamp buggy to change the battery and restart the phone. FP-239 was still at the den. We started to call her helicopter mom since she was still hovering over her kittens at an age when most panther moms are off hunting.
On August 18, 2017 the phone turned off again. After completing a deer survey, Deborah and Annette had the helicopter land about a kilometer away. They walked to the box and restarted the phone. The phone appeared to have plenty of power. It had probably shutdown because of the poor cell coverage in the area.
On August 19, 2017 the phone was off again. We took the swamp buggy in to fix the phone. While there we could tell that FP-239 was moving away from her den.
Once FP-239 had moved off, we searched for her kittens. The location she chose for her den was typical of dens in Big Cypress. It was an area of higher ground surrounded by cypress swamp. The ground was uneven with pinnacle rock and multiple solution holes. The overstory was pines and mixed hardwood trees. There was a particularly dense understory of saw palmetto, interwoven with grape and smilax vines. In spots there were thick beds of sword fern.
At four weeks of age it is possible for the kittens to move away from us as we approached them. With the dense understory it is impossible to move through it without making a lot of noise. We each headed in from a different side, anticipating that the kittens would remain in the middle of us.
After about 45 minutes of searching I came upon the den site. There were multiple areas which where cleared of leaves consistent with an active den. I carefully searched this area. Crawling under and around the palmetto trunks but found no kittens.
With no kittens found, I extended my search to the surrounding area. While I was searching nearby Deborah moved into the den area. Not finding any kittens, she moved on to searching another area.
At this point we were concerned that FP-239 had moved her kittens to a new location. Perhaps her movement when we first arrived was her moving the last kitten?
Having searching for close to two hours with the heat index above 100 degrees we were flagging but were not ready to give-up. After a rest Annette searched near the den site where she found a single kitten moving away from her. As Deborah and I converged back to Annette’s location, Annette found a second kitten.
The distinctive markings in the middle of their foreheads make it possible to identify each kitten.
Trail camera video of the kittens playing at the den.
When FP-239 returned to the den she was followed by crows. You can hear the crows' alarm calls. As FP-239 starts to settle down she seem to think that K-482 is in danger from the crows. She picks him up and brings him to the den.
K-481 gets a bath.
K-482 seems to be unhappy with an afternoon rain shower.
Camera 1 recorded over two hours of life at the den. The entire video is below.
FP-239 denned again on February 1, 2019. Two female kittens K-494 (Weight 4 lb 1 oz) and K495 (Wreight 3 lb 14 oz) were handled at the den by Dave Onorato and Matthew McCollister on February 22, 2019.