By Craig Pittman
For two months, state and federal wildlife investigators have been trying to figure out who shot a Florida panther and left its carcass to rot.
In cases like this, investigators collect evidence, bring in forensic experts, question potential witnesses.
"We treat it just like a murder victim," said Col. Julie Jones, law enforcement chief for the state wildlife commission.
None of that has proved fruitful thus far. So this week, hoping to coax someone to come forward, officials offered a $15,000 reward.
But history isn't on their side.
The shooting occurred sometime during the week of April 13 in rural Hendry County, just outside the boundary of the Big Cypress National Preserve. The victim, found on April 21, turned out to be a young female, about 2 years old and ready to breed for the first time.
"Obviously the loss of a reproductive female is not a good thing," said Dave Onorato, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's panther section.
There are about 100 panthers in South Florida, evenly divided between males and females. That one shooting wiped out 2 percent of the female panther population, Onorato said.
For 51 years, it's been illegal to shoot a Florida panther. The early settlers called it a "tiger" or a "catamount." They feared the animals so much they usually shot them on sight. By 1958, though, the panther had become so scarce that state officials said no more hunting. More....