By Daily News staff
Originally published — 2:21 p.m., April 3, 2007
Updated — 4:58 p.m., April 3, 2007
A panther that was found dead Tuesday on Interstate 75 may have been the same cat that has menaced the south end of Golden Gate Estates over the past eight months.
A Florida Highway Patrol officer discovered the dead panther in the median at mile marker 98, about two miles east of the Alligator Alley toll plaza. The death of the 3-year-old male marked the sixth panther fatality on a Florida roadway this year.
Based on photographs and descriptions from eyewitnesses, a state panther expert believes the panther may have been the same cat that has been attacking livestock in the Inez Road area. A panther killed five goats there last February and twice wounded a miniature donkey in August.
"We know it was a large, hunky male, and this one fits dead-on," said Darrell Land of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
A positive identification likely won't happen because biologists didn't take any DNA samples from the attack sites. And panthers don't have any defining characteristics, such as spots.
Although most of Alligator Alley is hemmed in by a chain-link fence, the portion immediately east of the toll plaza remains open. Several panthers have been struck in the area while none have been hit east of the Everglades Boulevard overpass, where the fences were raised nearly two decades ago.
The panther was the third to get run down in Lee or Collier counties in the past week. One was struck last Friday on I-75 just north of the Corkscrew Road exit in Estero, and another died last Thursday on U.S. 41 East just west of State Road 29.
In all, nine panther carcasses have been found this year from various causes, representing roughly 10 percent of the endangered creature's known population.