YULEE, Fla. – Less than a mile up the road from where we met Karen Hagins, live North Florida’s only two wild Florida panthers.
And now they’re on the run.
"It is very scary, very scary. They're wild beasts, you know, that's their nature,” said Hagins.
The two panthers are believed to still be inside the Wild Oak Conservation Center. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been tracking the two since Superstorm Sandy set them free.
"Unfortunately, when the storm came through on Sunday it blew over a tree and it hit their enclosure. They were able to get out through the damaged fence," said FWC public information officer Karen Parker.
The fence has since been fixed, however the brother and sister are still on the lam. The two cats were initially captured when they were 5 months old. They were found near the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed in northern Collier County in September 2011.
“The two kittens, born in May 2011, were trapped by our staff due to the death of their mother,” said Kipp Frohlich, head of the Imperiled Species Management Section at the FWC. “They were transferred to White Oak Conservation Center to be raised and prepared for release later this winter back to South Florida where they were originally rescued.”
The FWC has a contract with White Oak to care for panther kittens.
“Should people be concerned,” Action News asked Parker.
“No. They’ve got radio collars on them and we're keeping a constant monitoring of the situation. We know where they are at all times,” she said.
But Hagins can't help but feel a bit nervous this Halloween knowing tonight trick-or-treaters might stumble upon an uncostumed scary surprise.
"I think everyone with kids that are planning on trick-or-treating down this way needs to know,” said Hagins.
The two cats have not traveled far from their pen, according to officials, and again are still on White Oak property.
The FWC said Thursday that experts captured the panthers today. The animals did not stray far from their homes.