Florida panther kittens documented north of Caloosahatchee

File photo.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Wildlife officials say they have evidence of endangered Florida panthers breeding north the Caloosahatchee River.

The panthers once roamed the southeastern U.S., but their range now is limited to southwest Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates up to 230 panthers remain in the wild.

The Caloosahatchee River had appeared to block their expansion northward. But in a statement Monday, wildlife officials said they’ve verified the presence of at least two kittens north of the river. They’re apparently the offspring of a female spotted by trail cameras since 2015.

Panther team leader Darrell Land said that earlier this year, the cameras captured images of a female panther that appeared to be nursing.

Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski called the birth “a major milestone” for the panther’s recovery.

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