Published: Sep 23, 2010 8:40 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 23, 2010 5:40 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the quest to save the endangered Florida panther, their Texas cousins were the cat's meow.

Wildlife biologists moved eight female panthers from Texas - close relatives yet genetically distinct - into south Florida 15 years ago in hopes of boosting reproduction, and the immigration paid off.

Now scientists have created an astonishingly in-depth family tree of today's panthers to prove the genetic mixing not only left a bigger population but a healthier one - offering support for this type of conservation as biologists struggle save pockets of rare species the world over.

The study was published in Friday's edition of the journal Science.