By Jennifer Brannock
Monday, March 12, 2007
Florida panthers may be elusive in the wild, but they’re appearing all over Naples this week.
Coordinators kicked off opening day of “Save the Panther Week” at the Naples Zoo on Sunday morning. Volunteers with several environmental and animal agencies gathered along the zoo corridor near the panther exhibit to distribute information on the endangered species.
While viewing the two panthers housed at the zoo, visitors chatted with experts about the importance of land conservation for and protection of the panther.
“This is a way for us to draw attention to an endangered species that attracts children and adults as well,” said Leslie Walker, volunteer naturalist for J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.
“This is great for building partnerships to preserve and educate, which is one of our most important functions.”
Several groups have come together to organize “Save the Panther Week,” including Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Gulf Coast University Wings of Hope, the Naples Preserve, Audubon of Florida, Picayune State Forest, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the National Wildlife Federation.
“We are trying to bring all agencies and groups and causes together to reach a common goal of preservation and education about the Florida panther,” said Jeff Carter, collection manager for the zoo and vice president of advocacy for the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge.
Gavin and Andrea Dawes of Gainesville said they visited the zoo to learn more about Florida’s animals, including the panther.
“We’re very interested in nature, and we watch all the nature shows on TV,” Gavin Dawes said. “I like the fact that nature and wildlife are being preserved here.”
Carter said one of the goals of the week, which this year was expanded from “Panther Day,” is to educate about responsible growth and living in harmony with nature.
“Because male panthers require about 200 square miles in a territory, when we’re protecting it, we’re protecting all its neighbors,” Carter said.
“This is a way of letting people know we can still live here and we can still build, but we have to be smart with the way we’re doing things.”
Activities are planned throughout Naples to celebrate “Save the Panther Week.” For more information, visit the Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge Web site, at www.floridapanther.org.