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Panthers and Bobcats featured at the Wildlife Park in April

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on March 23, 2017

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be highlighting Florida’s Big and Little Cats: Florida Panthers and Bobcats during the month of April. A special program and displays on Florida Panthers and Bobcats are planned during the month of April.

A special program on the Living with Florida Panthers initiative will be presented on Thursday, April 27, 2017, 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

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.

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 100-160 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 panthers. 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.

The Park’s resident Florida Panthers: Yuma and Sakata

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

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 female panther FP195 in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples, Florida. The kitten had apparently been abandoned, and 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.

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

Yuma is now a little over three 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.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has welcomed a second endangered Florida panther kitten in July 2016 the kitten, now a year 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 one of the fields.

 

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.

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. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has also been home to other Florida panthers and cougars and has a large panther habitat.

Bobcats: Florida’s Smaller Cats

The Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is widely distributed throughout most of North America, and is common throughout Florida. This cat has adapted well to neighborhoods throughout Florida. The bobcat is 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 Florida. 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 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 abler to survive in the wild.

In other news at the Park, the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park will be holding their annual Spring EGG-stravaganza and Earth Day event on Saturday, April 15, 2017, starting at 8:00 am with an Easter egg hunt. The egg hunt will begin at 8:00 am in the field behind the Visitor Center parking area. Families are encouraged to bring canned goods to donate to the local food bank.

The Wildlife Puppeteers will be presenting a puppet show on Saturday, April 15, 2017, following the egg hunt starting at 9:15 am in the Florida Room, the Wildlife Puppeteers will be presenting a new puppet play entitled “This is your life…Lu, the Hippopotamus!” There is no charge to attend the egg hunt or the puppet play.

Friends’ Volunteers – The Wildlife Puppeteers who do Puppet plays her in the park and outside the park in schools, libraries and clubs. (L to R) Vicky Iozzia, Judy Hemer, Renate Wilms-Rovin and Bruce Mann. Photo by Susan Strawbridge

The Wildlife Park opens for the day at 9:00 am and visitors are invited to enjoy the park.  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.

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 22, 2017. An experienced birder from Citrus County Audubon, will lead the walk on this 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 on Pepper Creek Trail.

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, ext. 1002.

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