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Why We Should Protect the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge

Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge.

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History of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) covers nearly 26,400 acres in southwest Florida. The sanctuary has protected natural plants and wildlife since 1989. It is located twenty miles east of Naples in Collier County at the center of the Big Cypress Basin. The Collier family sold the resort for 10.3 million dollars.

They made this refuge not only for the endangered species that live there, including its namesake, the Florida panther but also because of the mass deforestation during World War II. For hundreds of years, cypress trees towered 130 feet over the area and stood 25 feet in circumference. People logged the site to provide wood for the soldiers at the beginning of the war in 1944. The trees were cut down at an alarming rate, averaging one million board feet per week. The last of the trees were chopped down in 1957. The only trees that remained were on Corkscrew Audubon Preserve. Amazingly, today, the cypress trees are slowly replacing the ones lost long ago.

The cypress trees are just one of the significant reasons we need the Florida Panther NWR. They are working on the Orchid Restoration and Conservation Project since this is home to many rare species of orchids. There were 43 known kinds in this area, but only 30 have been seen in the past 30 years.

They also spend a lot of their resources ensuring the survival of the Florida panther since this is the only known spot it is protected today. However, it resides in at least nine counties of Arkansas and other parts of Florida. Unfortunately, southern Florida remains the only area they can assure the protection of these beautiful cats. They have researched how these creatures live through radio technology collars and infrared cameras to protect them better. Panthers used to roam throughout all areas east of the Mississippi River before the reserve existed. Unfortunately, much of its land has been lost.

This refuge uses its funding toward these magnificent cats. The money goes towards researching, monitoring, and evaluating ways to improve southern Florida's natural ecosystem and educate people on the importance of stopping the destruction of their natural habitat. Removing non-native plants is essential since they harm the natural native ecosystem of Florida.

Dark Green: Primary Habitat - Light Green: Secondary Habitat - Lime Green Slashes: Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge - Dark Purple Slashes: Everglades National Park - Magenta Slashes: Big Cypress National Preserve

Dark Green: Primary Habitat - Light Green: Secondary Habitat - Lime Green Slashes: Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge - Dark Purple Slashes: Everglades National Park - Magenta Slashes: Big Cypress National Preserve

Plant Life in Florida Panther NWR

There are at least 700 species of plant life native to this area, including:

  • Bromeliads
  • Cypress trees
  • Glades lobelia
  • Hydric pinelands
  • Prairie milkweed
  • Rare orchids
  • Saw palmetto
  • Splash pine
  • Tickseed
  • Tropical hardwood hammocks
  • Wet prairies
florida-panther-wildlife-refuge

Dangers of Non-Native Species

One of the greatest threats to the natural habitat of southern Florida is the many non-native plants that have been planted in the area, such as the Brazilian pepper tree, the old world climbing fern, and the Australian pine. These exotic trees have spread throughout the region, invading land where the plant species native to the area used to live, changing the natural processes that allow the species to live better, such as natural forest fires.

Many areas need natural fires to allow the vegetation to flourish the best. These invasive plants have caused a reduction in natural fires in some areas and caused other sites to have the fires cause more damaging effects than they would have years before the introduction of these exotic plants. Another reason we do not want these foreign plants to be around is that the native animal species do not eat these plants. The non-native species taking over disallows edible vegetation for the native creatures to eat.

To reduce these other plants, we need to discourage people from planting foreign species in the area, especially ones that spread. Also, the Florida Panther NWR is working on removing many of these through herbicides, biological means, and controlled fires.

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Fires are significant to many of the plants even without the encroachment of these exotic species because they allow the reduction of the debris and build-up that would be hazardous to the flourishing of natural plants. These human-made fires usually target shrubs such as wax myrtle and willows that are foreign to these areas when conditions are ideal. The fires are very well controlled. The Florida Panther WLR gets donations and encourages visitors in parts of the reserve to fund these operations.

Wildlife in Florida

Alligators

Armadillo

Big Cypress

Fox Squirrel

Black Bear

Black Rat

Bobcat

Common Opossum

Coyote

Diamondback Rattlesnakes

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Mole

Eastern Pipistrelle Bat

Evening Bat

Everglades Mink

Feral Hog

Florida Black Bear

Florida Panther

Florida Water Rat

Grey Fox

Hawks

Hispid Cotton Rat

Long-tailed Weasel

Marsh Rabbit

Norway Rat

Owls

Raccoon

Rice Rat

River Otter

Shorttail Shrew

Shorttail Skunk

Striped Skunk

Whitetailed Deer

Wild Turkeys

Yellow Bat

This butterfly is one of the many creatures that have found a home in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

This butterfly is one of the many creatures that have found a home in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Visiting the Wildlife Refuge

The reserve has 18 staff members and approximately 8,000 visitors a year. The visitors are only permitted to walk on specific trails, while most of the land can only be visited through limited tours.

Many people hope to see a panther while visiting, although this is very unlikely since, like most cats, they are nocturnal or active at night. Plus, there is only an average of 5-11 Florida Panthers that den, hunt, roam, and lounge in the area due to their dwindling numbers. They do not travel in groups, so few can live in a particular location since they like to have their own space. Only limited areas are allowed for visitors to view to enable panthers and other animals to live undisturbed. Keep in mind the purpose of the reserve is not for human enjoyment but to keep the animals from becoming extinct.

There are two trails humans can walk on that are open only during the daytime. Keep in mind that the refuge has rain showers that flood the area during the summer. During the winter, these areas dry out. One trail, which floods during the summer and fall time, is located north of the intersection of State Road 29 and I-75 and loops one and a third mile. This trail is also unable to be mowed during the wet season, which is excellent if you like a challenge but not if you are looking for a stroll.

The other is a third-mile wheelchair-accessible loop known as the Leslie M. Duncan Memorial Trail that meanders through a hardwood hammock and other tropical vegetation. Panthers seldom visit either of the trails, although occasionally you will find a path from one, as well as from deer or bears. Morning and evening is the best time to see active wildlife in these areas.

Another native animal to the area

Another native animal to the area

Protecting Endangered Animals

We should not leave the protection of our world's resources, animals, and vegetation to only professionals. There are things we can do as well.

  • Educate others by talking. The more people interested in protecting endangered animals, the better impact we will have on our environment.
  • Visit national parks and nature reserves and participate in paid guided tours to help fund their projects. While there, make sure you abide by the rules.
  • Make your backyard as much like a wild reserve as possible. The more like a reserve your yard is, the more inhabitants can live there.
  • Plant a tree that is native to your area. Although it will take a hundred years to grow to the same height as trees chopped down for wood, at least you are protecting the land a hundred years from now.
  • Have a bird feeder during the winter and a birdbath during the summer.
  • Use compost rather than chemical fertilizer in your garden. The more natural fertilizer will benefit you and any animals that live in your area.
  • Recycle, many places will do this for free, or you can have a door service very cheaply.
  • Reduce how many disposable products you use, for instance, a washcloth instead of a paper towel.
  • Donate old toys rather than throwing them away.
  • Turn off lights and water when not in use. For instance, while brushing your teeth, don't let the water run.
  • Write articles or letters to inform others of endangered species.

Sources

  • Bramwell, Alex. “Endangered Animals in Panama.” Animals - Mom.me, 26 Sept. 2017, animals.mom.me/endangered-animals-in-panama-12377079.html#ixzz265p92b94.
  • “Florida Wildlife.” State of Florida.com, www.stateofflorida.com/Portal/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=105.
  • Godsea, Kevin. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Official Web Page of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Panther NWR, www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/facts/flpcon.pdf.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Angela Michelle Schultz

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