By Jeremy Cox
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
The plight of the Florida panther, a symbol of Florida’s wild past and the state’s official animal, will be highlighted during a week of events that kicks off Thursday.
Federal biologist Larry Richardson will speak at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the reservation-only “Cause for the Paws,” a fundraiser being held at the Mediterra gated community. Proceeds are slated to go to panther research at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Collier County.
Money also will go toward the construction of a planned $250,000 education center at the refuge, which is north of Alligator Alley and west of State Road 29. The nonprofit Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge is trying to bridge the gap between the federal government’s $175,000 allotment and the $250,000 price tag.
Moreover, “Florida Panther Week” is intended to cultivate greater understanding of the often-misunderstood predator, said Tom Murray, president of the Friends group. There are between 80 and 100 panthers in the wild, making the species among the most endangered on the planet.
Why should people care about the panther?
“That’s like asking, Why should they care about the Everglades?'” Murray said.
“These are magnificent animals and part of the ecology,” he said, adding that panthers are considered an “umbrella species,” meaning that “they need so much habitat that if we can protect that, we can save a lot of things.”
The week also will include, among other things, a bicycle ride Saturday through Big Cypress National Preserve, exhibits Sunday at the Naples Zoo and a swamp walk next Wednesday at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.
For more information, visit floridapanther.org.