Published: Dec 17, 2012 2:43 PM EST

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A new study says breeding with Texas pumas has so far saved the Florida panther from extinction.
    
The study by University of Florida scientists was published Monday in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
    
Wildlife officials imported eight female pumas in hopes they would mate with native panthers in 1995.
    
The study concludes that gamble paid off.
    
It says without those pumas there was a high chance of the panther population falling below 10 by 2010 and eventually going extinct due to inbreeding.
    
Estimates of the panther population currently range from 100 to 160, all in the southern part of the state. The big cats, though, face other threats including loss of habitat and being hit by vehicles.
    
The sale of Florida panther specialty license plates helped pay for the study.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

(Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife)