David Adams, 60, formerly of Newnan, killed the big cat Nov. 16, 2008, with a muzzleloading rifle while hunting from a tree stand on public Corps of Engineers land near West Point Lake in Troup County.
The healthy, 140-pound cat was first thought to be an escaped pet. Eight months later, however, tests performed by the National Cancer Institute’s Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Maryland confirmed it was a Florida panther - and a federally protected endangered species.
The sentencing, held in U.S. District Court in north Georgia, includes a stipulation that Adams may not hunt or obtain a hunting license anywhere in the U.S. during his probation.
Authorities say Adams knew he was shooting at a cougar, a species for which there is no open season in Georgia.
The Florida panther has been listed as an endangered species since March 11, 1967, giving it protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Maximum penalties for violating the act include prison terms and fines up to $100,000.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission have worked for years to bring the Florida panther back from near extinction. The population has been growing since its low point of less than 30 panthers in the wild in the late 1980s, to more than 100 to 160 adults today.
The panther’s appearance in Georgia was unusual. The place where it was shot and killed is almost 600 miles from its known habitat. The cat was so healthy biologists speculated it was someone’s pet.
Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division gets dozens of reported panther sightings each year, but rarely has evidence to back them up. Authorities say anyone seeing a panther should not shoot it, but can try to get photos or document its presence through physical evidence, such as tracks, droppings or kills.
One of Georgia’s best-known panther visits occurred in 1995, when 10 western cats were fitted with tracking collars and released in northern Florida as part of an experiment to determine if that region could be repopulated.
One of the male cats ended up in Burke County, Ga., before traveling along Brier Creek into McDuffie County. Eventually, it made its way to the Clarks Hill Wildlife Management Area near Thurmond Lake, where biologists recaptured it in February of that year and returned it to Florida.
During its travels through Georgia, the wandering panther never generated a single reported sighting.