March 20, 2009
Floridians have a chance to visit panther country on Saturday, as part of the Governor’s proclaimed Save the Panther Day. It will wrap up a week of activities devoted to raising awareness of rescuing the state animal from the threat of extinction. Saturday’s open house will take place at the Roger Roth Work Center in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.
Takako Sato, assistant manager for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, says some may even be fortunate to catch a glimpse of the shy creature.
“Last year, there were some folks who were heading out and there were three panthers walking along the trail. You never know what you are going to see, and these tours take you through some really beautiful swamps that are usually closed to the public.”
One purpose of the event, adds Sato, is to educate people about living near panther habitat, urging them to drive carefully, particularly at dusk and dawn, and to protect small animals in pens enclosed with a roof.
Laurie MacDonald, Florida director of Defenders of Wildlife, says the Florida panther once roamed much of the southeastern United States, and now people are moving into the panther’s last sanctuary. She says wildlife crossings on south Florida roadways have dramatically cut down panther road kill, but more are needed. She also recommends additional precautions to keep panthers, pets, livestock and people safe.
“There are no known records of a Florida panther attacking a human being, but if we put an animal in a startling situation, we put ourselves in danger.”
The Florida panther is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, needing large amounts of land to hunt and raise their young, says MacDonald. She says land conservation efforts, endangered species protection, and more wildlife crossings are critical to succeed in helping the animal not only to survive, but also thrive.
“It takes quite a concerted effort to try and not just protect the one-known breeding population, which is in south Florida, but someday to return them to a couple of other areas in their historic range.”
Saturday’s event will feature swamp buggy tours through panther habitat, walking tours searching for birds and orchids, and photo workshops – all calling attention to the estimated 100 Florida panthers who make south Florida home.
Gina Presson , Public News Service – FL
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org
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