Living with Florida Panthers: part of the Wildlife Park's April celebration of Big & Little Florida Cats : accessibility restaurant explore domain room_service shopping_basket arrow-circle-right search instagram linkedin yelp twitter youtube star facebook Trip Advisor

Living with Florida Panthers: part of the Wildlife Park’s April celebration of Big & Little Florida Cats

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on March 28, 2018

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be highlighting Florida Panthers and Bobcats during the month of April. A special program and displays are planned during the month of April.

The Living with Florida Panthers initiative will be presented on Thursday, April 26, 2018, starting at 1:00 pm in the Florida Room in the park’s Visitor Center. The presenter is Jayne Johnston, Panther Outreach Specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) initiative Living with Panthers.

Jayne says, “FWC created my role as a public safety measure since panther recovery is such a great success story.  With an increase in their population and the human population, we want to ensure the safety of humans and panthers by spreading the word on what we can do to minimize interactions between the two.”

Her program will include historical and biological information about panthers, their former and current range, impacts to their populations past present and future, and how to keep safe on the roads where most panthers are killed.  She’ll also include information about interagency, public, and private partnerships and citizen science opportunities involving the big cats.

Johnston was born in New Jersey but moved to Florida when she was one and a half years old. She graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and is a certified interpretive guide with the National Association on Interpretation.  Her focus is on informal environmental education through public outreach, guided hikes, and afterschool programs. There is no charge to attend the Living with Florida’s Panthers program.

Yuma is a full-grown panther who was rescued as a kitten, rehabilitated and rehomed at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to be an ambassador for his species. Photo courtesy of Susan Strawbridge.

Florida Panthers: Florida’s Big Cats

Florida’s largest cat is the Florida panther, a subspecies of puma, also known as a mountain lion or cougar. It is the last subspecies of the puma still surviving in the eastern United States. Biologists estimate that 120-230 adult and sub-adult Florida panthers remain in the wild. Most panthers live in southwest Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River, although some panthers have been known to travel as far north as central Georgia.

The Florida panther’s decline occurred before 1950, when it was still legal to hunt them. It was listed as endangered in 1967 and is protected under federal and state laws. Florida panthers are found mostly in the Big Cypress/Everglades ecosystem in Collier, Lee, Hendry, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties.

Sakata and Yuma are in the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s excellent panther habitat.

The Park’s resident Florida Panthers: Yuma and Sakata

The park is home to Yuma, (meaning “Son of the Chief”), a Florida Panther who arrived at the park on April 3, 2014 as a 3 month old kitten. He was found barely alive on January 23, 2014 by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists who were checking on the den of a female panther FP195 in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples, Florida. The kitten was about 10 days old and had apparently been abandoned. He was dehydrated and non-responsive. He received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Since he could not be returned to the wild, he was given a home at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where he serves as an ambassador for his species.

Yuma is now a little over four years old and is a healthy and active panther. He lives in an 8,500 square foot landscaped habitat with its own rock-bordered pond, bushes, rocks and logs to climb on. He has become a favorite of park visitors who can easily observe him in his habitat from the Wildlife Walk.

baby panther
Yuma the Florida Panther who was rescued and sent to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park – at 9 weeks old. Image courtesy of Susan Strawbridge.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park welcomed a second endangered Florida panther kitten in July 2016 the kitten, now 2 years old, is named Sakata. He was found on Monday, January 18, 2016 by employees performing routine field maintenance at the Sakata Research Station in Fort Myers, Florida. The male panther kitten was only 2 to 3 months old when found abandoned and sleeping in a field.

Sakata Research Station employees contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the panther kitten was taken to nearby Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens for temporary care until a permanent home could be found for the kitten. The Naples Zoo has a facility for housing injured and orphaned panthers. The kitten who originally was designated as UCFP261, was named Sakata after the location where he was rescued.

Sakata was found abandoned as a kitten in the Sakata Research Center and was transported to the Naples Zoo for care. When he was old enough, he was rehomed at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park where he can help to educate residents and visitors on these magnificent cats. Image courtesy of Susan Strawbridge.

USFWS and the FWC worked together to find a permanent home for Sakata as it does for cats that for whatever reason could not survive in the wild. They decided that Sakata would join Yuma at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which has previously served as home to other Florida panthers and cougars, and has a large panther habitat.

Bobcats: Florida’s Smaller Cats

Bobcat at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Image courtesy of Ralph Bischoff.

The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is widely distributed throughout most of North America, and is common throughout Florida. This cat has adapted well to the State’s neighborhoods, equally at home in deep forest, swamps, and hammock land. Thick patches of saw palmetto and dense shrub thickets are important as den and resting sites. In rural areas, bobcats can range five or six square miles and generally cover their territory in a slow, careful fashion. In urban to suburban areas, the range of territory usually decreases to 1 or 2 square miles.

An efficient hunter, the bobcat, like most felines, hunts by sight and usually at night, but seeing a bobcat out during the day is not uncommon because they sleep for only 2 to 3 hours at a time. Small mammals are by far the most important group of prey animals. In Florida, squirrels, rabbits, rats, opossums, and small raccoons are the primary prey species.

The park is home to two male Bobcats named Tank and Antonio. Both were previously owned as pets and became imprinted, and therefore would not be able to survive in the wild.

Earth Day Celebration

The Wildlife Park opens for the day at 9:00 am for visitors to enjoy.  Interpretive carts on the park’s wildlife will be set up along the Wildlife Walk in celebration of Earth Day.  Learn about bears, panthers, manatees, native plants, bees, and much more. Regular park admission applies for entrance into the Wildlife Park.

Monthly Bird Walk April 28

Novice and experienced birders can meet at the flagpole by the Visitor Center entrance located on US 19 at 7:45 am. The bird walk begins at 8:00 am.

Citrus County Audubon will be leading a Monthly Bird Walk on Saturday, April 28, 2018. An experienced birder from the organization will lead the walk on the Pepper Creek trail–one of 19 birding trails in Citrus County that are part of the West Section of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. There is no charge to participate in the bird walk.

As you can see, we have a lot planned for April and we encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the importance of

Florida’s Big and Little Cats. For more information on our events, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445.


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