State park gets Florida panther from Busch Gardens

Hippos, Wolves and Panthers — Oh My!

Famous Florida Panther Don Juan joins Florida State Park System

HOMOSASSA –Don Juan the Florida Panther recently joined the ranks of Lu the Hippopotamus as the newest member of the state park family. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) partnered to relocate Florida Panther #79, known as Don Juan, to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Don Juan debuted this Monday after being transferred from Busch Gardens Amusement Park in Tampa.

“We are very excited to have Don Juan at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park,” said Florida Park Service Director Mike Bullock. “Homosassa’s wildlife facilities make a great home for this endangered Florida Panther to be cared for, and his relocation to the park will play an important role in educating the park’s visitors on the necessity of wildlife conservation and protection.”

A permanent resident at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Don Juan is the first Florida Panther to call a Florida state park home. The 11-year-old male weighs approximately 130 pounds and has fathered approximately 30 offspring in the wild at Big Cypress Swamp near Naples. Busch Gardens was home to the panther for two years prior to his arrival at the state park.

Don Juan will share the habitat currently used by the park’s nine year-old female Western Cougar, Maygar. The animals will be rotated and will not occupy the habitat at the same time. Visitors can approach the habitat from a glass viewing area. The habitat is a fenced-in, open area with trees for shade, large rocks and various plants for Don Juan and Maygar’s comfort.

In addition, three Red Wolf pups also arrived at the wildlife park on November 25 and will be available for public viewing next month. The pups are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s captive breeding program which began in 1970 when the animals became endangered. By 1980, Red Wolves disappeared from the wild; however, with the reintroduction program in place, there are now believed to be 100 to 130 Red Wolves in the wild.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park works in partnership with agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are responsible for the protection of native wildlife. This partnership enables park staff to educate visitors about a variety of endangered species, including two whooping cranes and six West Indian Manatees that reside at the park.

“If you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway the entire family will enjoy, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a great value,” said Homosassa Springs Park Manager Art Yerian. “A visit to the park offers an opportunity to discover the real Florida and its native wildlife for a price far less than other theme parks.”

Located 20 miles north of Florida’s newest state park Weeki Wachee Springs, Homosassa Springs is one of the region’s most popular attractions.

The park is home to Lu the hippopotamus, Florida’s only resident hippopotamus.

The park also offers an underwater manatee observatory, providing a unique view of Florida’s famed sea cows.

A 1,600-foot Wildlife Walk showcases the natural habitats of bobcats, cougars, otters, bears and hundreds of birds.

The state park also offers boat tours, hiking trails, picnicking and an interactive Children’s Education Center and Museum.

In September 2008, The 8,000-square foot Felburn Wildlife Care Center was dedicated at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The Felburn Wildlife Care Center is the main wildlife building where animal diets are prepared. It also houses a veterinarian clinic, stores food for the animals, and houses all quarantined animals. The wildlife center, although not generally open to the public, does provide special tours and allows children in the semi-annual wildlife camp to prepare meals for the animals. The center also provides housing for up to four students at a time to conduct field research on animal behavior.

Construction of the Wildlife Care Center was made possible through a grant the park’s volunteer-run Citizen Support Organization received from the Felburn Foundation, a national foundation for environmental stewardship established by the late philanthropist Phil Felburn of Levy County.

The first two-time Gold Medal winner honoring the nation’s best state park service, Florida’s state park system is one of the largest in the country with 160 parks which are open 365 days a year. Florida’s state parks, which span more than 700,000 acres and include 100 miles of sandy white beach, provide an affordable outing for people of all ages.

From swimming and diving in Florida’s rivers and springs to birding and fishing or hiking and riding on natural scenic trails, Florida’s state parks offer year-round outdoor activities for all ages. Battle reenactments and Native American festivals celebrate Florida’s unique history, while art shows, museums and lighthouses offer a window into Florida’s cultural heritage. Florida’s state parks are also home to the 2008 Best Beach in the nation. Caladesi Island State Park, located off the coast of Southwest Florida in Pinellas County, was honored with this coveted award.

For more information about Florida State Parks, visit www.floridastateparks.org.

http://www.northfloridanewsdaily.com/News/2008/1215/travel/185.html

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