The following story was written by Eric Staats and posted on the Naples Daily News website.
A search is on for the shooter of an endangered Florida panther found dead on the side of Immokalee Road last month.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday they are offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.
The panther, a 5-year-old male, was reported to wildlife officials as a road kill about 8:30 p.m. March 22 by passing motorists west of Camp Keais Road, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Conservation Commission officers went to the location, and a follow-up investigation found that the panther had been shot.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the maximum penalty for killing a Florida panther is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Florida law makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
In 2012, a Golden Gate Estates man pleaded guilty to killing a panther with a bow and arrow while hunting along Woodland Grade in the Estates in October 2009.
Todd Alan Benfield, then 45, was sentenced to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, fined $5,000 and paid $5,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Benfield also was required to write public a letter of apology, which was printed in the Naples Daily News. In it, he said he killed the panther because he thought it was interfering with his hunting.
A 3- to 4-year-old uncollared male panther hit and killed by a car on I-75 about a mile east of the tollbooth in Collier County. Photo submitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.