By Letitia Stein
TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Two rare Florida panther cubs were struck and killed by cars during the weekend, authorities said on Monday, bringing the total road deaths for the endangered species to 16 this year.
The 4-month-old panther cubs appeared to have been hit in separate incidents while crossing a rural road in Collier County in the southwestern part of the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Officials said they found indications that the kittens' mother was with them at the time and that she appeared to be unharmed.
"Our concern is that she may come back looking for her kittens," said Darrell Land, the agency's Florida panther team leader.
The number of Florida panthers has more than tripled in recent decades to between 100 and 180, according to government estimates, but the species remains a long way from being downgraded on the endangered list.
Land said the motorists who struck the panther kittens did not call to seek help after the collisions, which occurred late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
A female kitten was the first to be discovered. The cub's sibling, found on the other side of the road, had been hit multiple times. Wildlife officials could not determine the second kitten's gender.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)