Anonymous tips can be reported to state wildlife commission at 888-404-3922

OCHOPEE (CBSMiami/AP) — The Florida panther is one of the most endangered animals in the world, which is why state and federal wildlife officials are now offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the suspicious death of an endangered Florida panther.

The panther was found dead Dec. 7 in the Big Cypress National Preserve with a suspected gunshot wound.

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She was on a back country access road frequented by hikers, hunters and people who use off road vehicles.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating. Anonymous tips can be reported to the state wildlife commission at 888-404-3922.

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Florida panthers are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Unlawfully killing one is a third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of a year in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Bob DeGross of the National Park Service said the panther was an 18-month-old female implanted with a microchip.

Panthers are extremely rare. The big cats once ranged across the southeastern United States, but now they are found primarily in southern Florida. Wildlife officials estimate that between 100 and 150 adult panthers remain in the wild.

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