Big cats in Broward’s Flamingo Gardens

Big cats in Broward

Davie park hosts a frolicking hybrid duo — part Florida panther and part western cougar
Special to The Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Oct. 08, 2006

BY PATTI ROTH

Sometimes Bubba and Osceola playfully pounce on each other, tumbling around. Other times, they’ll relax in the pond or quietly hang out in the leafy shade of a bush.

The pair, hybrids of a Florida panther and a Western cougar, are residents of Flamingo Gardens in Davie, living in a habitat built with help from various sources, including several Eagle Scout projects, fundraising events and individual donations.

Bubba, 7, and Osceola, 6, are on loan to the wildlife sanctuary from an organization that previously used them for educational programs.

Flamingo Gardens takes in animals that can’t be released into the wild, either because of injuries or they can no longer adjust to natural surroundings, said Michael Ruggieri, Flamingo Gardens’ animal care director.

Unlike wild panthers that shy away from people, Bubba and Osceola sometimes saunter right up to the glass window to watch the tourists who are watching them.

”They know their names,” Ruggieri said. ‘You go in and say `Bubba,’ and he meows back. You say ‘Osceola,’ and he meows back.”

Panthers, mountain lions, pumas and cougars are popularly used labels for the same animal species, according to Capt. John West of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida panthers, seldom seen by humans in the wild, are a protected subspecies, with about 30 breeding pairs roaming through national preserves in the state, West said.

Various subspecies display slightly different physical features, based on the region of the New World where they live, he said.

Bubba is tall and long, similar to a Western cougar, while Osceola’s smaller stature and reddish coat with white speckles suggests a kinship to the Florida panther, Ruggieri said.

At Flamingo Gardens, the exhibit space offers Bubba and Osceola a play area about 10 times more spacious than where they were previously, Ruggieri said. Their home features a rock formation, concrete pond, tall grasses, bushes and 26 palm trees. At night, the cats stay in an adjacent pen, with ledges for hopping from place to place and bowling balls to knock around.

Panthers are nocturnal and often nap during the day, but Bubba and Osceola delight spectators with occasional bouts of frisky activity. Osceola, who was overweight when he arrived, has since slimmed down nicely, Ruggieri said.

Flamingo Gardens, at 3750 S. Flamingo Rd., plans an official welcoming celebration for the pair, but a date has not been set. For information, call 954-473-2955 or visit www.flamingogardens.org.

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