By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Wildlife forensic experts will examine the remains of an endangered Florida panther to determine who shot and killed the animal recently in the Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami, Florida.
Park spokesman Bob DeGross said on Thursday the illegal shooting of the panther, which was discovered Saturday, was only the fourth case of Florida panther poaching since 1983. Arrests were made in the earlier three cases, he said.
Killing an endangered panther is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The preserve, managed by the National Park Service, encompasses 729,000 acres, about the size of Rhode Island.
At any given time, about 20 Florida panthers roam the area, DeGross said.
The current population of the Florida panther, a subspecies of the mountain lion, is estimated at 100 to 140 cats.
The dead cat was found seven miles into an area called the back country, and about 50 yards away from a trail used by visitors riding off-road vehicles. Back country visitors must obtain permits, and hunters are required to check in and out of check stations, DeGross said.
"Evidence was collected in the field and the remains taken to a nearby medical hospital," DeGross said.
After completion of a necropsy, the remains will be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife forensics laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, he said.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Bernadette Baum)