PORT ST. LUCIE -- Wildlife officials have tracked a prowling panther's 800-mile trek through central Florida.
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The 3-year-old male Florida Panther was hit by a car and injured in 2014 in southern Polk County. University of Florida veterinarians worked to repair his broken leg and rehabilitate him for life in the wild before releasing him in January in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Treasure Coast Newspapers reported on Sunday.
The panther now wears a tracking device and researchers say they are learning important information about the habits and habitat of his endangered species.
Researchers found that the animal, known as Panther 232, traveled 80-plus miles west to the same stomping grounds where he was hit by a car. He circled back north, past Lake Wales and then went east crossing the Kissimmee River. He later crossed Florida's Turnpike and made his way east as far as the neighborhoods of Sebastian, Roseland and Micco before heading north into Brevard County. After visiting Brevard County, Panther 232 turned south again into the citrus groves of St. Lucie County.
Land said Panther 232 may have been roaming such a distance to seek a female.
"Females will often set up a territory of an average of 40 to 80 square miles adjacent to their mother's," he said. "Males will distribute much farther and then will have an area of about 100 to 200 square miles where they will stay."
This year, 36 Florida panthers have been found deceased throughout South Florida where their population is concentrated. Of those, 25 were struck by cars -- by far their most common cause of death.
State and federal agencies are constructing fences and building underpasses on deadly roads like Alligator Alley, the Tamiami Trail and U.S. 29, so that will help soon.
Land said the chief reason Panther No. 232 is healthy and back in the wild right now is because of quick action by the motorist whose vehicle struck it.