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Nearly Extinct Florida Panther Returns to the Wild North

May 30, 2017 12:57 PM EDT

Disappearing wildlife is a story that's told over and over worldwide. More rarely are there good news to tell, but recent developments in Florida may be cause for celebration. The Florida panther, a species that has come dangerously close to extinction, is back.

In the past, Florida panthers roamed freely in the woods and swamps of the state's southeast region. As human activity in the area degraded their habitat and even killed them off due to paranoia, the official state animal of Florida began to disappear until they became one of the most endangered mammals in the planet.

According to a report from the New Yorker, the 1970s saw the population of the Florida panther decrease to fewer than 30 individuals. For so many years, the only breeding population of this panther in the entire world remained stuck in a tiny corner of south Florida. With the efforts of the government and private institutions, the current number is now around 200 and the animal is venturing to land beyond the southeast.

Much to conservationists' relief, 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for the Florida panther. While male panthers have been spotted north of Caloosahatchee River -- the northern boundary of their habitat -- for years, females have a more limited range and have not been seen in this region for decades. In March of this year, one of the significant milestones for the species included the discovery of panther kittens north of the river for the first time since 1973, which means a female crossed the boundary recently.

"We've been waiting for a female panther to cross the river for a long time,'' Darrell Land, a scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in the New Yorker report.

Hopefully, this is the start of a new population making its way throughout the state once more.

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