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Uniquely Florida: The Florida Panther

By Kate Spratt Posted on March 3, 2019

The Wildlife Care team at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park invites you to join them for an extra wild Florida Panther Program at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Stretched out underneath an oak tree in the warm morning sun, Yuma lazily yawns, his wispy breath swirling in the crisp air. The tip of his long, curved tail flicks slowly as he casts a suspicious glance toward the front of his exhibit.

A hidden prize awaits, craftily disguised with leaves by enrichment volunteers early in the morning. With incredible grace and power, Yuma leaps up and silently bounds toward his focus, pouncing on the pile. Amid the flurry of leaves, you can see his muscular body wrapped around a spherical shape, claws and teeth buried deep… in a cantaloupe. This orange fruit is one of Yuma’s favorite enrichment items and his acrobatic display expresses his satisfaction.

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.

Yuma is one of two Florida Panthers that reside at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, giving visitors an up-close look at an animal that many Floridians will never get the opportunity to see in the wild. Both orphans, Yuma and Sakata are non-releasable panthers due to being imprinted, and have lost their fear of humans. These two male Florida Panthers serve as ambassadors of their species, sharing their stories of survival and illuminating the challenges facing their wild counterparts.

About the Florida Panther

The Florida Panther, scientifically known as Puma concolor coryi, is Florida’s largest wild cat and is a highly endangered species. Having once roamed the Southeastern United States, Florida Panthers are now confined to an ever-decreasing home range. Highways, development, and an increasing human population has resulted in pushing many panthers south of the I-4 corridor, with most female panthers residing and reproducing south of the Caloosahatchee River. Young males searching for their own territories may be seen throughout Florida’s peninsula, searching for their own 200-square-mile range. According to the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), there are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population.

Sakata, a young male panther who resides at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, as captured by Kate Spratt, Park Services Specialist.

Panthers state-wide are facing increased loss of habitat. Having to travel further for food and reproduction increases their chance of crossing paths with human development; the most common cause of Florida Panther deaths are vehicle collisions. Here are a few ways that you can help these big cats:

  • Remain alert while driving, especially through areas that are known to have panthers.
  • Purchase a Florida Panther specialty license plate which benefits the Florida Panther Research and Management Trust Fund.
  • Support facilities that provide public education about panthers and conservation, such as Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park Extra Wild Panther Program March 14

The Wildlife Care team at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park invites you to join them for an extra wild Panther Program at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 14th, 2019. Ashlee O’Connor, a panther biologist with FWC, will present about the Florida Panther, discussing history, habits, protection, and what you can do to help this iconic Florida animal.

Yuma, a young male Florida panther who was brought to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park as a cub. Image courtesy of Kate Spratt, Park Services Specialist.

At the beginning of the program, Rangers will hand out tickets for a drawing to experience a behind the scenes panther training session following the presentation. This exclusive opportunity will provide ten participants an up-close view of these cats, revealing their strength, intelligence, beauty, and why conservation of this species is critically needed.

This free program will be held in the Wildlife Pavilion inside the park, however regular admission to the park is required. For more information on this and other events at the state park, visit FloridaStateParks.org.

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