Florida Panther Kitten Yuma will move into Park’s Panther Habitat on August 21
Guest article by Susan Strawbridge, Park Services Specialist
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be highlighting the Florida Panther during the month of August. Early this year, the Wildlife Park started introducing monthly themes featuring special programs on the month’s topic. Two programs are planned on the August’s Florida Panther theme.
The first program will be presented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s wildlife biologist Mark Lotz on August 11, 2014, starting at 1:00 p.m. in the Education Center. The audience will hear Mark Lotz talk about his work as a wildlife biologist specializing in Florida Panthers. He started with the agency 20 years ago when the estimated number of Florida Panthers was between 30-50. Since that time Mark and the FWC panther team have worked with partners to increase the panther population to current levels. Mark’s duties include the envious task of capturing adult panthers for on-going radio-telemetry studies and examining kittens (like Yuma) in the den when they are only a few days old.
Lotz is also on the front lines of resolving human-panther conflicts resulting from the successive recovery of the Florida Panther. Mark was one of three biologists recently recognized by the Florida Wildlife Federation for contributing greatly to the research, management and conservation of the panther population in Florida. Originally from Ohio, Mark graduated from the Ohio State University with a degree in wildlife management. Immediately following graduation, Mark worked for the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge for three seasons as a wild land firefighter before beginning his career with the FWC. Mark plans to give his talk on some basic panther biology and maybe focus more on kitten work tying it into Yuma. He will also talk about the state of the panther and what FWC does and the agency’s role in panther conservation efforts.
Thursday, August 21, 2014, will be the day that Yuma, the endangered Florida Panther kitten, will be moving into his new home in the Wildlife Park’s Panther exhibit. Yuma will then be seven months old and will weigh over 30 pounds. He will be released into the refurbished habitat at 10:00 a.m. on that day. The 80’ by 120’ exhibit has been re-planted with new sod and includes a rock-bordered pond.
In January, the approximately 7-day-old kitten was rescued in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The 1-pound male kitten was found in a matted-down area of sawgrass and was non-responsive with a dangerously low body temperature. Biologists determined that the kitten was in very poor condition and would not survive without intervention. The decision was made to rescue him and bring him into captivity.
The kitten was immediately transported to the Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples where veterinarians and staff performed life-saving measures to treat him for dehydration, malnourishment, and to raise his body temperature. Once stabilized, he was transported to Lowry Park Zoo for further rehabilitation and vaccinations. While in their care, he continued to improve, gaining weight and strength.
On April 3, 2014, the Florida Panther kitten was moved to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where he will make his home. The kitten who was named Yuma, meaning “Son of the Chieftain,” was kept for the first few weeks in the Felburn Wildlife Care Building so he could acclimate to a new environment and to the Wildlife Care staff. He was then moved to an outdoor enclosure with a night house behind the Panther Exhibit.
Both programs are included in regular park admission, which is $13 for adults (ages 13 and up) and $5 for children ages 6 through 12. Children age 5 and under are admitted free. Come to our programs, and you may enjoy an all-day visit to the Wildlife Park. Learn about our new Florida Panther kitten and see him at a distance, weather permitting.
In other news at the Park, The Education Center reopened in March after the first phase of restoration was completed on this historic building. The building was the original entrance to Nature’s Giant Fish Bowl and was built in the 1940s. The roof was replaced, and brick work was added to the lower half off the interior walls to protect the building from water damage. The remaining interior walls were repainted. The Springs Time Line, a new educational exhibit, will soon be installed featuring a series of panels that will tell the story of the Park’s first-magnitude spring and the Park through history.
The Wildlife Puppeteers will be presenting a puppet show on Saturday, August 9, 2014, starting at 1:00 pm. The puppet show is entitled “Whose Habitat is it Anyway?” starring Tori, a little girl, and her new friend Beary, a Florida Black Bear cub. They meet in Tori’s backyard and learn about each other and how they can better get along and share the habitat.
As you can see, we have a lot planned for August and we encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the importance of the Endangered Florida Panther and all of Florida’s wildlife. For more information on either event or to register for the Florida Panther program, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.