Image of man holding panther cubs leads to criminal investigation

Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 15:06:08-05

The Florida panther is a beautiful creature, but you should never get close to one. An image surfacing online of a man who purportedly holding two panther cubs has launched a criminal investigation.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is investigating the origins of a YouTube video which shows a man handling what appears to be two panther cubs.

The original video was taken down; however, a still shot from the video, which shows the unknown man holding the cubs, continued to stir controversy online.

In an email, a FWS spokesperson told Fox 4 News the federal agency was looking into the authenticity of the video and where it was filmed.

According to the official, if the video was filmed in Florida the individuals involved would be in violation of U.S. Endangered Species Act 16 USC 1538, as well as Florida state laws which prohibit contact with endangered species.

A Naples conservationist who saw the image says it serves as a reminder of the importance of not interfering with wildlife.

"Bring your binoculars that's the way to enjoy wildlife out in the wild," said Brad Cornell.

Florida panthers were placed on the endangered species list in 1967,  and since then their population has dwindled in size. Florida Fish & Wildlife officials believe there are only 100-180 left in the wild, not including cubs.