GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami/AP) – It looks like a gamble taken years ago to pump up the Florida panther population is paying off – all thanks to pumas.

A new study found that breeding with Texas pumas has so far saved the Florida panther from extinction. The study by University of Florida scientists was published Monday in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

READ MORE: FBI: Body Found Near Search Area For Missing Florida Woman Gabby Petito Consistent With Her Description

Wildlife officials imported eight female pumas in hopes they would mate with native panthers in 1995.

The report concluded that without those pumas there was a high chance that the panther population would have fallen below 10 by 2010 and would eventually go extinct due to inbreeding.

READ MORE: Massive Search Underway For Brian Laundrie, Fiancé Of Missing Florida Woman Gabby Petito

Estimates of the panther population currently range from 100 to 160, all in the southern part of the state. The big cats, though, face other threats including loss of habitat and being hit by vehicles.

The sale of Florida panther specialty license plates helped pay for the study.

MORE NEWS: MDPD Seeking Driver Who Hit, Killed Man Riding Mini Scooter In Florida City

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)